CHARLESTON, S.C. (March 3, 2015) - At age 18, Leo Garcia boarded a plane in Argentina with a one-way ticket to Atlanta. The soon-to-be University of South Carolina student had a bus pass to Columbia, S.C. and two suitcases with clothes and a guitar.
“It had every making of a country song,” Garcia said. “I’m not sure how my parents let me do that.”
He was as prepared as a South American could be in the southern United States, which is to say he probably wasn’t. Garcia was born in Argentina and moved to Brazil at age 12 to enroll in an American school in Rio de Janeiro. “My English was okay when I came in (to the U.S.),” Garcia said. “What I didn’t really speak was ‘southern,’ and the different accents that I heard were certainly amusing.”
He quickly became acclimated to southern lingo and different food and music, saying the experience of attending college at the University of South Carolina “toughened me up pretty quickly.
“Friends can be pretty brutal with jokes,” Garcia said. “I developed a thick skin pretty quickly, and by the end of the first semester, I was already one of the guys – just with a slight accent and slightly better jokes.
“Ignorance was bliss; I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” he added. “I thought I was actually going to the same school as Michael Jordan, and I was off by a state. I knew I wanted to go to a place where there was no snow and had a sports management degree.”
Garcia has since climbed the ranks of US Club Soccer, starting as an intern in the early 2000s to becoming the National Premier Leagues (NPL) General Manager last July. Outside of the NPL, Garcia has assisted in previous id² National Selection International Tours, and this year’s voyage to Argentina is no different. It’ll provide him an opportunity to return to his Argentine roots, see family and friends, and amongst a variety of other things, play translator for the American traveling party.
What was your reaction when you found out that the 2015 id² National Selection International Tour would take place in Argentina?
LG: I was really excited about the opportunity to bring a talented group of players from the United States to my homeland. When you talk to people in South America and Europe, U.S. is still not considered a soccer nation. Building on the USA's relative success at the World Cup, the id² National Selection team can shed some light on talented, skillful American soccer players.
Will your family come watch any of the id² National Selection’s games?
LG: I’m expecting a few of my relatives and friends to come watch id² National Selection games against Argentina’s top youth academy teams. I don’t think they understand the complexity of this trip, and what it does on a national scale in the U.S. However, they are intrigued and excited to see the level of young American soccer players playing against familiar foes.
Who will they be cheering for?
LG: I’m pretty sure they will be cheering for id² National Selection. First, they know someone who is personally involved in the trip, but mostly, they strongly dislike clubs other than Newell’s Old Boys (Rosario).
What do you miss most about Argentina?
LG: I think Argentina is a very passionate country, and it’s represented at its best in “fútbol.” Nothing unites the country more than the national team, Messi’s goal in the 90th minute or Diego Armando’s highlight reel from Mexico ’86. I miss that type of passion and enthusiasm for soccer.
Stepping over to the NPL, what do you see as the biggest area for growth?
LG: I think we have a chance to really create a platform where players and clubs develop to their full potential, while still competing for a significant national title. As we get stronger in each of these leagues, we get deeper and deeper into player development and identification for our national teams. PDPs and id² events have greatly aided our efforts within each of the NPL leagues. In addition, alongside other US Club Soccer’s efforts, we have a huge opportunity to educate parents and coaches regarding player development and the youth game in general.
What do you envision for the NPL’s long-term future?
LG: After the USSF Development Academy and ECNL, I hope that the NPL becomes the avenue for clubs to develop players, educate parents and staff, and provide the structure that clubs need to continue the growth of soccer in this country. Although still in its infancy, NPL has already started that process.
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