Nicholas Garcia has his bags packed and passport ready. The Encino Crespi senior is leaving Tuesday for Madrid, where he’ll spend a week showing off his soccer skills after receiving a special invitation to participate in a showcase event because he was identified as a 17-year-old with the potential to be a professional athlete.
“I’ve played in a lot of games, a lot of tournaments,” the 6-foot, 175-pound Garcia said. “I’ve been training day in, day out, traveling to Bakersfield, San Diego, Irvine. My parents are sacrificing their time taking me.
“They’re the reason I am who I am. They always support me and tell me what I should be looking forward to. Since I was 4 until now, it’s been a long, long time playing soccer. It’s a beautiful sport.”
Garcia came close to being named Mission League defensive MVP last season. He received three out of seven votes even though his team finished fifth in league. His physicality and toughness comes through playing on defense.
“I love contact,” he said. “Defense is my position. I love being the one to lead from the back.”
He played high school football for three years, which helped his strength and toughness. Crespi doesn’t begin its soccer season until next month, and Garcia figures to be among the best in the Southern Section.
Garcia, who will start for the fourth consecutive season, has embraced high school soccer at a time when the pay-to-play era in club soccer hasn’t exactly proven to be a rousing success in developing top USA players.
He began in AYSO and played club soccer, but he didn’t join a U.S. Soccer Development Academy team that many elite players choose to do.
“High school is a different environment and a different type of soccer,” he said.
Besides the financial commitment, Garcia said you have to decide if it’s worth playing only 15 minutes for an Academy team versus playing 90 minutes on another team. But truth be told, he said an Academy coach didn’t think he was good enough, so high school became his best option. Now that he’s attracting interest from professional teams, he has a chance to make a bigger impact.
“If I were to make it as a pro, I would really be a role model to other kids, showing them the opportunity is there if you play high school,” he said.
Garcia said he was introduced to soccer by his father, who grew up in Mexico. He said American tackle football helped improve his game through gaining strength, speed and physicality.
“He’s the kind of kid who wants to play a sport every season,” Crespi coach Andrew Wright said. “He’s very resilient. He’s brave. From the first day I met him, he wanted more than what we offered him. Nicholas is a soccer kid in this American sports culture. He tried his talents in other sports but now he’s focused on himself. He stands out.”
At a national showcase sponsored by Alianza de Futbol Hispano, a group that promotes the development of Hispanic soccer in the USA, Garcia was chosen to travel to Madrid and also given the opportunity to try out for five professional teams, including the L.A. Galaxy.
Garcia has good grades, is bilingual and, most importantly, has developed the kind of character and commitment that will carry him through the ups and downs associated with trying to fulfill his sports dreams.
“Soccer has helped me build my character,” he said.
When he returns from Spain, he’ll get ready to help Crespi try to become one of the best soccer teams in the competitive Mission League.
Garcia’s soccer journey is just beginning, and he’s going to have lots of people rooting for him in the coming years.