Ives Galarcep: Colombia test next for rapidly rising Greg Garza

After becoming a starter for his club and breaking into the U.S. national team, the Tijuana fullback could see his career continue to soar if he plays well against Colombia.

LONDON -- After earning his first two U.S. national team starts last month, Greg Garza couldn’t have been blamed if he had taken the time to sit down and watch the matches over again, basking in the glory of achieving one of his life’s dreams.

Garza didn’t watch the starts against Ecuador and Honduras. He had no time. He was too busy preparing for Club Tijuana’s next match, against Queretaro, and one of his childhood idols, Brazilian star Ronaldinho.

The past three months have been a whirlwind for the 23-year-old fullback. He became a full-time starter, establishing himself as Club Tijuana's left back after impressing enough last spring to allow the Xolos to sell Edgar Castillo. He then made the most of his first U.S. national team call-ups, playing so well at left back that he looks ready to take over the position.

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Growing interest from European clubs can be added to the list of things going Garza’s way, with sources telling Goal USA that several teams throughout Europe have scouted Garza, who is in the process of trying to secure a Portuguese passport via his Brazilian wife.

Despite all of that, Garza still strolled into his most recent U.S. national team camp humble and grateful for the opportunity.

“I’m very excited. It’s always a dream come true for me coming into camp,” Garza said. “I’m just ready to get back at it and continue what I started with the past three games.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime to come in and do our best and I think I speak for everyone that you always have to be on the right page and give my best every single training with every opportunity that I have.”

Garza’s next opportunity will come on Friday, when he could stand across the field from Colombia star Juan Cuadrado, a blazing fast winger who attracted interest from clubs like Barcelona last summer. Cuadrado is one of the best right wingers in the world, and if Garza starts, he will be facing the toughest test of his young career.

“They have a lot of wonderful players, top players, Champions League players,” Garza said of Colombia. “Guys like James and Cuadrado are guys that are very good on the ball. All of their players are wonderful players and they had a very good World Cup. It was a shame that they went out against Brazil.

“I think that it’s a wonderful opportunity for us. We shouldn’t think too much about them and be a little bit more focused on what we have going with the new chemistry and the new generation coming up and hopefully we’ll do our best to win the game.”

Garza is still an international novice, with just three caps under his belt. While playing time should help him continue to improve and mature, he has also benefited from the presence of four-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley, whom he has faced in Liga MX. Brought in by Jurgen Klinsmann to help mentor the team’s younger players, including Garza, Beasley has done his part.

“I think that he’s a wonderful mentor to have, especially for me,” Garza said of Beasley. “This guy has been around the world and in Mexico also with Puebla. I actually talked to him while he was at Puebla a couple of times when we used to clash with each other. Other than that, I think it’s a wonderful way to learn even more than I have before.

“The most important thing for me is that I want experienced guys like Beasley and Jones, who are very experienced players who have played all around the world and in the Champions League,” Garza said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing to pick their brains.”

If Garza does get the starting nod on Friday, the experience of facing Colombia at Craven Cottage will be just the latest in a series of special moments for the Club Tijuana defender in recent months. Special moments like playing against Ronaldinho.

“It was a dream come true,” Garza said. “It was a pretty cool sensation just to go up (against him). I came on in the last 30 minutes, Joe (Corona) and I, and we were 1-0 down. He had actually scored the goal, and then we won the game 2-1.

“It was a good experience for us to play against one of our idols. I used to wear his boots when I was a kid and watch him with Barca and PSG and all of those teams. It’s a really cool dream to have come true and I was really excited.”

If Garza starts against Colombia, and has a good game against the No. 3 team in the world, he will put a stronger claim on the starting left back role and could play himself a step closer to a European transfer.