Remember Nick Garcia?
The Major League Soccer veteran played centreback for Toronto FC for two seasons, in 2009 and 2010. His long black hair and statuesque demeanour made him instantly recognizable in Toronto’s backline. A fan-favourite in Kansas, Garcia’s last stint in MLS was at Toronto FC.
RedNation Online caught up with Nick Garcia, who spoke about life after Toronto FC.
Looking Back at Toronto FC
“You know, for me, life after TFC has been a mixed bag of soccer, of life, of everything,” said Garcia.
Garcia remembers his time at Toronto FC fondly. He was involved in the team’s first Amway Canadian Championship title, and having played under three different coaches, Garcia was a member of the team during some of its most tumultuous days.
He believes that the club’s problems weren’t a result of management, though.
“We were missing some pieces,” said Garcia. “The coaches we had, Nick Dasovic, Chris Cummins, Preki, Mo Johnston, I wouldn’t fault anyone for being there. I don’t think the blame was with the management. I know Toronto media loves to chew on and pick people apart but for me I think it was our chemistry, or lack of chemistry between the players.”
“I don’t think we were mentally strong enough as a collective unit to reach our potential, and that was our detriment,” he continued.
“Still, I would argue with anybody that our team was as good if not better than any team that has come after us,” said Garcia. “I don’t care what somebody makes in the locker room next to you, we fought harder and had a better group of guys than what’s been around.”
“Not to throw mud on anybody else’s face, but I think the youth academy has a long way to come for them to be a viable source of players, and I say that for all MLS clubs, not just TFC,” said Garcia. “Those kids aren’t ready. The kids that are on these youth national teams go away and come back with an even bigger head.”
Preki, in particular, drew the ire of Toronto FC’s fans. When he was fired, so too was the club’s general manager, Johnston.
“Preki was in all the time, first one in, last one out,” said Garcia. “We were watching so much video, but I think what went astray with him was his personality. Preki is a demanding son of a gun and I know at times it was too much for some people. He’s old school eastern European, and not everybody bought into his plan.”
The Kei Kamara Incident and the Infamous Punch
Toronto FC fans may remember Garcia for a few confrontational incidents; the first was a confrontation between Garcia and Kei Kamara in Houston. The two players believed the other to be traded from San Jose; both were, Kamara to Houston, Garcia to Toronto. A few months later, in a preseason match in California, Kamara tried to hit Garcia, missed, and picked up a suspension. The bad blood between the two was formed.
During Toronto’s visit to Houston, Kamara stepped on Garcia, before spitting on his face.
“For someone to be such a coward to spit in someone’s face, it’s just unacceptable,” said Garcia. “I would respect someone more if they tried to actually come and break my leg or punch me for that matter, than come and spit in my face like a coward.”
Garcia was also involved in another confrontation during the Canadian Championship, with Montreal Impact defender Roberto Brown, who punched him in the face and picked up a red card for it. Garcia doesn’t really remember the incident well, but mentions another hit from his highlight reel.
“I don’t really put that up there with my top punches! Shoot, I think my craziest punch that I ever got to my face was when I was a rookie and we were playing Miami and there was a Colombian forward by the name of Diego Serna. Miami at this time needed two goals on aggregate to go passed us and the guy absolutely just sucker punched me during a corner and I was dazed and confused and needed stitches for that!” said Garcia.
Sporting Kansas City
After being released by the club and remaining unselected in the 2011 Re-Entry Draft, Garcia returned to Kansas, the city he had spent eight years playing in, and the city where he met his wife.
“I had a little stint with Sporting Kansas City, training with them and working to see if something would come to fruition, and obviously nothing did,” said Garcia. “It became one of those things where the next thing I had gotten into was trying to figure out what I wanted to do from a business standpoint, knowing that Major League Soccer was no longer a path for me.”
“I still had a passion for playing the game and was mentally still competitive and alert and ready to play,” Garcia continued.
Garcia started playing indoor soccer, and found a second-division team that offered him a potential ownership role, too. Through the process of negotiation, Garcia decided to turn down that option, and started his own management company, called G3 Inc.
“My company consults through soccer, we consult with the Kansas City, Missouri parks and rec board, we help in wellness programming with non-profits. We’re a management company where we actually manage facilities. G3 has become my baby of sorts in allowing me to stay connected to soccer and get that going,” said Garcia.
Garcia is also the executive director at the Brookside Soccer Club in Kansas. Founded in 1977, Brookside is one of the largest and oldest recreation clubs in Missouri, with 2500 kids playing recreational soccer.
Though Garcia spent a few years in Toronto, it’s clear his heart was always in Kansas. He speaks about his former club – rebranded now from the Kansas City Wizards to Sporting Kansas City – with obvious fondness.
Sporting Kansas City has become a powerhouse in MLS. The team is currently competing for a spot in the 2013 MLS Cup Finals. When we asked Garcia what he thought the secret to Sporting KC’s success was, he offered a multi-faceted answer. Garcia credits the club’s ownership group of Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, saying the two have improved the club dramatically after purchasing it from the Hunt family.
“They got [Sporting KC] for a steal of a deal – they would print money hand-over-fist now if they were to sell the team!” said Garcia.
“Look at Peter Vermes, whom I played with when he was here, and captained our team when we won the MLS Cup in 2000,” said Garcia. “He’s very entrenched in youth soccer and competitive soccer and in directing and managing the full team.”
“What better person (to coach the team) than the guy who’s spent some time in Kansas City, who knows the market, who knows ownership and who believes in himself quite a bit? He’s got a plan – even when I played with Peter, he was the kind of guy who knew what he wanted, he knew how to get it and he made sure that everyone else around him was in tune.”
“It’s a reflection, too, of how he coaches. He wants total and absolute control and power of the team. That’s not a bad thing. If you look at Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson, they’re the same way. Peter’s just a new coach in a new era who demands much of the same. I don’t mean for that statement to be damaging to him – I think it’s the greatest compliment. He does demand a certain level of accountability from his players and that’s a big plus.”
“It’s different, it’s a creative and unique way of getting his players to believe and if you don’t believe, you’re not a part of the team, and that’s how it should be.”
Garcia credits Vermes for the club’s successes, and for grooming players like Graham Zusi and Matt Besler into international quality players, something he believes is becoming harder to do with every passing year.
“The American player, and I would say, the North American player is too soft,” said Garcia.
“You look at kids these days and the choices they have,” he continued. “They’re faster, they’re bigger, they’re stronger, arguably, better players, but I would say mentally, they’re bush league. They’re soft.”
“Peter demands all those new attributes plus that mental fortitude and I think that’s part of why Sporting KC does so well,” said Garcia. “He demands that from his players day in and day out.”
Major League Soccer: Expansion, Salary Caps and the CBA
Markets like Sporting Kansas City are what Major League Soccer strives to replicate, and with the league expanding to 24 teams by 2020, there will be plenty of new markets for the league to find success in. However, Garcia isn’t convinced.
Garcia believes that the league shouldn’t necessarily focus on expansion, though.
“I kind of worry about it, I don’t know if we have a big enough player pool,” said Garcia. “It might oversaturate the league. But, it creates more jobs and more openings for the players. It helps the Canadian Soccer Association, the U.S. Soccer Association, but I think five teams, five markets is a bit much. Two in New York? It’s not basketball. I think LA and New York are the only two places that could ever have that.”
“I’m probably more concerned, as an ex-player who enjoys quality soccer, is it going to dilute the quality? That’s my biggest concern.”
On the advent of these new teams, Garcia also spoke about the league salary cap, which remains an issue throughout the league, especially in places like Toronto, who have struggled to manage the cap and have become burdened with heavy contracts.
“I don’t think you’ll ever see the salary cap gone,” said Garcia. “I think that other sports are good benchmarks for that. History has a tendency to repeat itself and you look at Don Garber who has ties to the NFL and other executives that have been brought in to MLS from other professional arenas, and they would agree that doing away with the salary cap would be detrimental to the league, and I would agree.”
“In saying that, why not focus on growing some of the markets and bringing the league in tune with the schedules of play throughout the rest of the world?” asked Garcia. “Why not have Major League Soccer mimic the calendar year with everyone else in Europe and South America and Central America?”
Garcia was a player representative for the MLS Player’s Union. During his time with Toronto, he was involved in the negotiation of the new collective bargaining agreement, a negotiation that nearly stalled the start of the 2011 season.
“Players always want more, and ownership always wants control of what they’ve got,” said Garcia.
“For us, when we had started to bargain, it was about higher wages, fairer wages, part of it was about schedule, because we felt that having a schedule that mirrored more similarly the play with the rest of the world would afford our national teams better opportunities to have players come and go,” said Garcia. “Part of it, too, was having the ability to have more Designated Players. I still think that we as a league want higher calibre players, I think this league thrives on young international players.”
Nick Garcia: Family Man
Now that he has stepped away from the game, Garcia can focus on his family.
“For me, that’s the biggest reason why I chose not to pursue a professional coaching career,” said Garcia. “I had an opportunity here with Sporting to do some broadcasting, but broadcasting, coaching, traveling with the team, it’s no different than being a player.”
“When I hung my boots up, it took me a little while to get over not being able to have a coffee with the guys in the locker room and hang out, going out to eat and have a good time, but I’ve traded that for family time.”
Garcia has also become an advocate for children’s health care; he and his wife – a dentist in Kansas – created an initiative to help non-profit organizations through coaching and teaching.
“Health and wellness is one of those things that is very near and dear to me,” said Garcia.
“I see my energy and direction being spent now helping youth. One of the initiatives that we have is our health and wellness initiative,” said Garcia. “You would be surprised to hear that kids don’t brush their teeth, they don’t go to the dentist, they don’t floss. Mom and dad don’t have the information they need, so I think from an American health care standpoint it was very eye opening.”
“One of the greatest things that I appreciated when I was up in Canada was the health care system,” said Garcia. “If Toronto wasn’t so expensive, I could have seen myself retire and grow old in Toronto. The socialized medicine, the people, the ability for the Canadian government to keep things in check, I admire.”
Garcia was often the target of Toronto FC fans’ frustrations during his time with the club. But, he doesn’t blame the TFC fans for the negative sentiment pointed his way.
“It’s just part of the culture of Toronto fans. They’re obviously entitled to their opinions, but I never did anything to the detriment of the team,” said Garcia. “Whatever hand I was dealt, I did the best I could with what I had. It was never my choice to put myself in, to make me captain or play in whatever position I did on the field. I was a soldier for Toronto FC when I played, and like any good soldier, when my number was called and I was told to do something, I did it.”
So, is Nick Garcia happy with life after Toronto FC?
“I am,” said Garcia. “I went to the Sporting KC – New England Revolution game here and people would recognize me and would walk up to me and share old Wizard stories. I enjoy that. The one thing that’s stuck out the most here is two different people on two different occasions asking, ‘don’t you wish you were still playing?’ – no, I don’t. My time has come and gone, I enjoyed it immensely, but I don’t want to be on the field, I want to be in the stands, drinking a pint and cheering everybody else on!”
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