It’s underdog week here at SB Nation, and while the LA Galaxy haven’t always been on the very top, they really haven’t been underdogs much, have they? And that’s not so bad.
So in approaching the topic, why not revisit a player who had an underdog story? Let’s take a look back at the story of a relatively recent Galaxy player, Rafael Garcia.
The term “underdog” is flexible, as one’s background, life story or journey can help build the underdog narrative, but Garcia seems to tick a lot of boxes. A local product, Garcia grew up in Canoga Park and was a Galaxy fan as a kid.
After a college career at Cal State Northridge, Garcia was the final pick of the second round of the 2012 Supplemental Draft by the Galaxy. Keep in mind, MLS doesn’t even run a Supplemental Draft anymore.
“This was one of the best moments of my life,” Garcia told his college newspaper after being drafted. “I honestly didn’t think I’d end up on the Galaxy, I just wanted to play anywhere, but it means a lot to me because I grew up going to their games. It’s very exciting – now I’m going to have to work my butt off to get a spot.”
A compact midfielder, Garcia was the ultimate team player, willing to do the dirty work for the stars on the team, or get put in whatever spot Bruce Arena asked him to. Over time, Garcia found playing time while splitting time between defensive midfield and right back.
Garcia ended up playing six seasons with the Galaxy, a total of 45 regular season games and one MLS playoffs appearance. He won two MLS Cups, in 2012 and 2014, even though he didn’t play much either season. Still, being a quality presence in training kept the squad ready and able to perform through the season.
He was also a contributor on the reserve side in 2013 and for LA Galaxy II in USL from 2014-17. All told, he played 43 games for Los Dos and the reserve team, and in 2014 he was a workhorse, scoring four goals in 24 games. The following season, Garcia made a handful of appearances as Los Dos went to the USL title game and lost in the final.
After the 2017 season, in which Garcia played a career high for the first team, with 18 appearances, he was out of contract and at a crossroads. In 2018 he joined the expansion Las Vegas Lights FC squad, playing under legendary wild card manager Chelís.
Last year, he moved again in the USL Championship, to OKC Energy FC, and really found his footing. Now the wizened veteran with two MLS Cup titles to his name, Garcia enjoyed a career year in 2019, making 28 starts and scoring six goals. Turns out the versatile player used to doing dirty work can score some goals, too!
At 31, Garcia is on his second season with OKC, although he’s sidelined like the rest of American sportspeople at the moment due to coronavirus. A father of three, the LA native has settled in to life in Oklahoma with his family and life seems good. He’s an active presence on social media, and that helps fuel his underdog status — in many ways, he’s just like one of us, posting to Twitter or Instagram about what’s striking his fancy.
I think you can extrapolate Garcia’s underdog story quite easily. Again, a local kid, who gets drafted by his favorite club out of a local college, wins a spot on the first team and makes the most of the chances he gets, willing to pitch in as needed. His leadership role in USL proved vital for the next phase of his career, when he became a player still hungry to take on a challenge, but with the benefit of experience in the ups and downs of being a professional.
Rafael Garcia was never a superstar with the Galaxy, but he was the underdog who helped stir the drink on some star-studded teams. Every team needs a few guys like that, and Garcia played that role perfectly.
Perhaps his best-known highlight encapsulates the underdog status of Garcia, chasing down a lost cause and making a goal-saving play on the defensive end.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!