May 21, 2013 - Major League Soccer (MLS) - Los Angeles Galaxy
HARRISON, N.J. - It is never easy to come in as a first half substitution, particularly, one that has to come in just minutes into the match.
After spending most of the week training with your fellow substitutes as opposed to the first team,you are thrown into the mix with little time to prepare, having to gel with your teammates in the heat of a match while still attempting to get a feel for the game that you had been watching only minutes earlier from the bench. LA Galaxy midfielder Rafael Garcia had to endure all of these things once he stepped onto the field at Red Bull Arena after a right shin injured felled Juninho and forced him to an early exit.
Prior to the match, the second-year midfielder had played just 30 MLS Regular Season minutes over his year-and-a-half professional career, but by the time the final whistle blew in LA's 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls, Garcia had played 80 minutes, more than doubling his career output.
"I thought I did well under the circumstances," Garcia told LAGalaxy.com. "It's never easy coming into a game like that. It probably wasn't my sharpest game, but I thought that overall, I was happy with my performance."
It wasn't always easy for Garcia as the match was a back-and-forth affair with the pace only heightened by the slick and rainy conditions at Red Bull Arena. Teamed up with Marcelo Sarvas in the middle of the park, Garcia appeared more comfortable as the game went on as he settled into a defensive midfield role after trying early on to create chances on the attack.
It was on the defensive side of the ball that Garcia had his most profound impact as he made five recoveries while completing 23 of his 30 passes on the night. The chippy nature of the match left an impression on Garcia, but not in the way that he might have liked. Garcia was forced to the sidelines late in the second half for a brief spell after an elbow to his eye from Tim Cahill created a gash that required a few quick stitches after the game.
Despite the poor result, head coach Bruce Arena admitted to being impressed with Garcia's performance.
"Solid job," Arena said of Garcia's performance. "He did a good job for his game with extended minutes."
Even Landon Donovan was left with a positive impression of Garcia's showing against the Red Bulls.
"It's tough to come into a game that early when you're not really ready. Rafa did okay," It's a tough game to come into, it's fast against two really good midfielders and he held his own pretty well. We're going to have to do that throughout the year. There's going to be guys missing, so we're going to have to have guys step in and do the job."
Garcia has steadily risen up the Galaxy depth chart since preseason and has made seven appearances across all competitions, while also being placed on the gameday roster for all 15 of LA's games this year. All that's missing now on Garcia's resume is his first start of the year, though that could change in the coming days. The extent of Juninho's injury is not immediately known meaning that Garcia could find himself in contention for a starting role this weekend against the Sounders or a few days later in LA's U.S. Open Cup Third Round tilt next week against either the Carolina Dynamo or Carolina Railhawks.
Whether or not a starting role comes or not, the industrious midfielder remains focused on solidifying his place on the Galaxy.
"Every game that you step on the field, you've got to improve," said Garcia. "[The New York match] was a learning experience for me. I've got to move forward and if the minutes keep coming then I'll be more than happy to step on the field again."