This week U.S. Soccer Head Coach Bruce Arena announced his squad of 32 players that will participate in the Men’s National Team January Camp and included on the list was Atlanta United defender Greg Garza.
The 25-year-old has partaken in all the ranks of the U.S. Soccer system including nine appearances with the USMNT since making his debut Sept. 3, 2014. Despite his frequent involvement as a U.S. International, Garza has played abroad for his entire professional career after deciding to head to Brazil when he was just 12 years old.
We caught up with the latest Atlanta United signing to talk about his move to MLS and his recent call-up to the U.S. Men’s National Team Camp.
Your initial interaction with Atlanta United, was there anything particular that enticed you?
"They told me they were very interested in having me on the squad and helping the team push forward. It’s a new expansion team, and I’m hoping that I can help out the best way possible."
"One thing Carlos [Bocanegra] did mention, was that he wanted the national team left back on Atlanta United, and I hope I can hold him to his word on that. It’s a brand new 2017, and I hope to be back in the mix within the national team and I hope that Atlanta is a stepping stone to do that."
Had the idea of returning home and playing in MLS always been part of your vision?
"For me, it was a dream as a kid to play professional anywhere in the world. I left home at a very young age at 12 years old to Brazil, then Portugal, and now Mexico. But there’s no place like home, right? The idea of being back home, being stateside, it’s a tiding not only for myself, but also my family so they can see how American culture is."
You’ve played at a multitude of soccer facilities across the world, what was your impression when you saw the renderings for the training ground and Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
"It was actually one of the first things I did after our initial conversations. I checked everything out, and it looked absolutely incredible. No words can explain how incredible."
"Every team is based upon training grounds and the stadium, and I’m hoping we will be able to kill it every single game for the club and the city. It’s a big stadium to fill, but just looking at the fan base already, there’s so many people in Atlanta that want to see us do well. I hope that we can exceed their expectations."
With your high-level experience both abroad and at the international stage, what do you hope to bring to Atlanta United?
"Experience. For me the most important thing a player can bring to a team is experience. With time clocked for the national team as well as down in Mexico in Liga MX, I hope that I can bring that same level as well as the American mentality of never giving up and really striving."
"At the end of the day it’s about representing the colors, the crest, the city, and the team that you’re playing for. It’s funny, the last three teams I’ve played for have been black and red, so it seems that black and red always tends to follow me. Hopefully that’s a good sign, and I can bring that experience as well."
MLS attendance ranked 6th in the world this year among professional leagues, what does it mean to you to see that amount of support & excitement for the sport in your home country?
"If you asked me that question when I was 13, 14 years old, I probably would have said we could only see this in 10-15 years at least, but it’s happened already. I think the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil was really something that opened up the doors. The team showed well, and it allowed people to realize that there’s good football, good soccer within our country."
"With all the excitement and interest in the sport, you get packed stadiums. Just seeing the MLS playoffs this past year, it’s amazing to see how many people are so into it. They bring out the chants and the drums and everything. I think they get the idea from EPL. So many people in our country watch and love EPL, and it’s pretty cool to see how well they’ve transitioned that into the United States."
What are your thoughts on the kit?
"What’s funny is my kid is in shambles right now because he’s only three years old, all he knows is Tijuana and Atlas. They’re the same colors, so he really likes black and red. I’m hoping for a good transition for him, that’s the main thing. Hopefully once he sees the stripes in his two favorite colors he’ll be comfortable and excited."
What are you most excited for in regards to the city of Atlanta?
"Atlanta is a cool city. I’ve been there a few times with the national team. To me it’s really about getting on track, finding chemistry with the team, and everything else will fall into place."
"Once you feel comfortable with a city, comfortable with all the guys on the team and the coaches, everything falls into place. It’s a new start. It’s a new beginning for all of us that are heading to Atlanta for 2017. I’m sure I can speak for everyone including myself that we’re very excited to help start this new 2017 franchise in the inaugural season."
What was your initial conversation with Bruce Arena like?
"I’ve met him a few times, playing against his team in the CONCACAF Champions League. I’m very happy and proud to have him call me up and express his interest in me as a national team player. For me it’s a new beginning in 2017, and I’m hoping to really start it off on the right foot."
"His views and experience of the game are very impressive. He coached the national team when I was a kid, and he’s been at the LA Galaxy for so long. I hope to be able to pick his brain as much as I can, so I can learn and grow as a player both on and off the field. The same goes for coach Tata Martino as well, his experience is incredible and he’s one of my idols. I’m really glad to have opportunity to learn from both of them."
This is a crucial year in U.S. Soccer history, some vital upcoming matches, what does it mean to you to receive the call-up now?
"It means everything in the world to me, to all of us. I mean we’ve unfortunately suffered in the last few games. But to be able to start 2017, get things turned around, and help turn the page of what 2016 was, I think that’s very important, and I’m grateful for the opportunity."
Arena’s player pool looks a lot different than Klinsmann’s, what are your thoughts on bringing in majority domestic league players?
"I think at the end of the day it doesn’t matter where they’re playing; whether it’s the U.S., Mexico, Germany, as long as we can find the right guys to really push forward and turn the page of what 2016 was. The most important thing is to find a group of players that mesh well and have great chemistry."
The outside back position for the U.S has been a frequent discussion for the past year. What do you feel you bring to the table to fill that void?
"There was a time a few years ago that I really felt that I had the position locked down. I suffered from injury, but hopefully I can get that back on track with this opportunity. My goal is to find the width of the game, be up and down the field as much as possible, help offensively as much as defensively, and really build that American mentality."
"I think the American mentality known throughout the world is to never give up, always battle until the last minute, and having a high fitness level. I think that’s what many people realize when they play against Americans is they work their tails off as much as possible. So I think that’s the main thing for us to start 2017 on the right foot and turn things around."
"On a personal note for me, I think I’m that kind of guy that will go in whatever situation, really focus and work in the humblest way possible."
Every player dreams of playing for the national team, and you’ve managed to earn another opportunity. Can you describe that feeling of stepping onto the field and representing your country?
"There’s nothing better than putting on that jersey, wearing that crest, and representing your country. When you walk out with the music into an international walkout and then you hear your national anthem having your hand at your heart. There is no better feeling. It’s complete joy. I think that every player can say the same."
"It’s funny, I’ve been through every age group of the national team U-14, U-15, U-17 FIFA World Cup, U-18, U-20, U-23 and now to the senior team. Honestly, the most special thing for me was to actually see, from the equipment managers to PR team, people that I have known since I was 13 years old, now ten years later and how far we’ve come. It’s been a wonderful journey."
You left the U.S early in your youth career, but since then, the structure has changed immensely with the development of the Academy system and the rapid growth of the MLS. What does this mean for the future of U.S. Soccer?
"As you can see, Bruce has come in and he’ll try to find some home base players. There are good players from the U.S. all over the world, but I think if you have a competitive league in your country where you can pick players from that league that can compete with leagues all over the world, then I think MLS is going in the right path. They’re developing the youth where every American player can compete in that league and also at an international level, and that’s the main thing we have to look at."
"Unfortunately, I never got to experience the Development Academy, it wasn’t started until I after I left residency, but having an academy league, a youth system organized and structured, is definitely going to help everything move forward."
Garza will report to January Camp with the USMNT in Los Angeles, Calif. on Jan. 10 to prepare for international friendlies against Serbia (Jan. 29) and Jamaica (Feb. 3). He will arrive in Atlanta for first team duties on Feb. 6.