JAMIE HILL - Wednesday, July 20, 2011
When Director of Youth Development Dennis Te Kloese began to stockpile young Mexican-American talent at Tigres UANL, it was only a matter of time before several players from this group started to knock on the door of the first team.
In the fall of 2011, Victor Garza will be one of several prominent names who are on the brink.
The winger from Edinburg, Texas is hoping to build off a memorable 2010-11 season. Moving up from the U17 team, Garza helped Tigres' Segunda Division affiliate lift the Apertura crown in December. As a reward for his efforts, Garza was promoted to the U20 team for spring Clausura tournament.
In his rise to the U20 team, which is the highest level of the Mexican academy system, the 19-year-old feels that he has made big strides in his development.
"I feel that my technique, vision, crosses, and ability to read the game a lot faster and being a play ahead have improved the most," Garza told YA. "Though I would say I would have to work most on the defensive side of the ball."
During the offseason, Garza's invitation to the first team's preseason preparations did not come entirely unexpected.
"I was expecting getting called up for preseason," Garza stated. "Dennis te Kloese had mentioned that there was a huge chance for me to go. I was back in the States on my vacation when I received the news. It was a great feeling that all the hard work and dedication is starting to pay off."
Although Garza will begin the season with the club's U20 team, he feels that spending preseason with the first team was a beneficial experience.
"Preseason went great," Garza noted. "Our preseason was in La Riviera Maya which is located in Cancun. The first two days I feel were the hardest, with running on the sand and resistance on the golf course. Right now preseason is pretty much over and the first league game is next weekend. I think we are physically and mentally prepared."
The preseason also offered Garza a chance to see the first team players from a close vantage point.
"Lucas Lobos, Damian Alvarez, and Danilinho are the three players I admire the most, but really this is an excellent team, there is such a great chemistry on and off the field," confided Garza. "Each practice I try to learn as much as I can from each and every player."
It is unsurprising that Garza would look up to Lobos, Alvarez, and Danilinho, who are Tigres' trio of attacking midfielders. Garza, himself an outside attacking midfielder, hopes to join them on the first team and serve as an understudy later in the coming season. With a crowded roster, Garza will play regularly with the U20 team and hope to force Tigres manager Ricardo Ferretti to consider a senior team call up.
"My goals this year are first of all to have a consistent tournament in the U20 league as a starter, and to keep on proving myself in order to win a spot on the first team squad," the winger said simply.
Garza wasn't the only American player to receive an invitation to Tigres' preseason camp. He was joined by no fewer than four other Mexican-Americans: right back Daniel Navarro, left back Juan Pablo Ocegueda, central midfielder Moises Orozco, and winger Uvaldo Luna. In the past season, over a dozen players with US citizenship took the field at some level of Tigres' organizational hierarchy, making the club home to more Americans than any other foreign club in the world.
Such a significant inflow of Americans to the club created an interesting dynamic.
"At the beginning it was a little hard to adapt," Garza admitted, "but our ability on the field helped us to be part of the crew. It's funny because at the beginning when we would speak English they would tell us 'hey, hey Spanish only', but as time went by, most of our teammates would try to reply to us in English. Right now there's many players attending English classes."
While Garza received several call ups to the US U20 national team during the last two years, he was not included in the final qualifying roster. He hopes that a strong season will vault him back into contention for international squads.
"Regarding international play, I still think it's a tough decision," acknowledged Garza. "When I got cut off the list for the U-20 qualifiers with USA, to be honest, it affected my mental perspective, but I told myself I was going to prove them wrong."
As a dual national Mexican-American who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, Garza seems to be of two minds when it comes to the US-Mexico rivalry.
"Since I was a little kid, I was shown love for the Mexican side and I've always wanted to play for them. Unfortunately, when I received a call up from Mexico I had a minor injury. However, I was born in the US and I know what it feels to defend the USA in an international game. I would get the chills, especially when they play the national anthem before the game. I'm going to keep on working hard on improving my game, so I can receive call ups once again."
Tigres' season kicks off on Saturday, when the club hosts Cruz Azul.