BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, February 7, 2012
The Copa Libertadores is one of the most prestigious competitions in all of soccer and last week Victor Garza made his professional debut for Tigres in the elite South American tournament.
In the qualifying round for the Copa Libertadores, Tigres was drawn against Chilean club Union Espanola for a two-leg playoff series to determine who would advance to the group stage.
After dropping the first leg 1-0 on the road, Tigres took a 2-0 lead in the first half of the second game in Mexico. Union Espanola scored twice to even the score early in the 2nd half.
Garza, 19, entered the game in 77th minute of the second with Tigres needing a goal to even the score. In the end Tigres came up short and did not advance but Garza earned positive reviews for his performance.
Despite failing to advance, the Edinburg, Texas native was very happy to have made his professional debut with the club he grew up supporting and the emotion of stepping on field for the first time with the first team was one he will never forget.
"It was a great feeling," Garza told YA. "In fact it is a feeling I've never had. It is a once in a life time emotion. Especially since I started kicking a soccer ball my dream was always to make my debut in the Primera Divison for Tigres. All my family has always been a huge Tigres fan including myself."
When Garza took the field against Union Espanola, he became one of the few Americans to have ever played in the Copa Libertadores. While the tournament is one of the most important competitions in the world, Tigres did not field many of its top players in order to rest them for the Mexican Primera which they considered to be the priority.
Garza still viewed the opportunity as a chance to showcase his talents on a big stage and prove he belongs with Tigres' first team moving forward.
"It was a great experience," Garza recalled. "Not everyone has a chance to play in a Copa Libertadores so I took advantage of the time I played. I personally think I had a really good [game] even though we did not qualify to the next round. When I was warming up I was a little nervous, but when I got called to go in the game the only thing that went through my head to take advantage of the opportunity and have a great debut."
Garza is firmly believes that he will be part of Tigres' plans in the years to come. He is still young but he is also one of the top prospects within the organization. He is unsure of when he will become a regular with the first team but he is confident he is on the right track.
"It's just the start of my career," Garza pointed out. "I still think I have to keep on working on strengths and weaknesses, and from there break into the first team little by little. To be honest, Tigres is a great club and I think I have a great future [with them]. Hopefully everything keeps on going as planned."
On the international stage, Garza's first team debut for Tigres could also put himself into the mix for the US U-23 team which will attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in March.
During his youth career, Garza spent time with the US U-20 team during the 2011 cycle but he was not on the roster for the team that took part in the unsuccessful U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament.
Garza realizes that making the Olympic team will be difficult but it would be a dream come true for him.
"Playing in the Olympic Games would be a great achievement," Garza stated. "Everyone will do their best to be on that final roster because it's a once in a lifetime experience. So I think it will be complicated."
As a winger and forward, Garza's competition will likely come from players like Josh Gatt of Norwegian Champions Molde FK, Joe Gyau from Hoffenheim, and Brek Shea from FC Dallas.
Garza believes he can break into that group of players but he is also aware that it will be difficult until he begins to play first team soccer.
"It's a little harder for the US Staff to take a look at players over in Mexico, so hopefully with this debut my name will be in the mix," Garza explained. "What I have to do is keep on proving myself. Having strong performances will get me into the mix - that's if they pay more attention to reserve games over in Mexico."
The road ahead to make the US U-23 team that will travel to Nashville for qualifying and perhaps to London for the Olympics is a difficult one. Garza is aware of the challenges that lie ahead but he is determined to put in the necessary effort to achieve that goal
"It more complicated for us American players that regularly play in reserve games in Mexico than for players in college, MLS, or Europe," Garza concluded. "It's much easier to take a look at them. Just the simple fact of playing in Europe has your name up high. So I think I have to do double the work and effort to be called up."