The grandson of a former NFL running back, Sounders FC 2 forward Sam Garza has always known that playing sports was in his blood. When he first stepped on a soccer pitch in Dallas, Texas at five years old, it clicked – he was going to play professional soccer.
Signing with S2 on March 14, 2015, a week before the team’s inaugural match, Garza has a unique path to Seattle, where he joins fellow Texas-native Clint Dempsey. There were times where he didn’t know what was next in his career, but his faith and a determination to grow both on and off the pitch have led Garza to a place that he hopes to stay long-term.
Garza’s grandpa was Bill “The Canadian Comet” Cross, who played three seasons for the Chicago Cardinals from 1951 to 1953, before playing for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL for another season. Garza’s father followed Cross’ football footsteps playing in college, and Garza’s mother became the middle school track, volleyball, soccer and basketball coach. His older sister dabbled in soccer before choosing volleyball, but it was that first moment of interest that exposed Sam to the beautiful game for the first time.
“When they stuck me on the soccer field when I was five, I just thrived in it,” said Garza. “A lot of my friends were playing with me in a local rec league, and there was a huge community of soccer in Texas that I was welcomed in to.”
After moving to New Mexico for his dad’s job, Garza started to pick up the finer skills and footwork required of a forward. He would watch TV and try to imitate what the pros would do on the field, and slowly started to realize his talent was surpassing that of his peers.
The Garzas moved back to the Lone Star State, where Sam led Marcus High School to two Texas state championships and was the 2008 Texas Gatorade Player of the Year. He went to Denver University before transferring to University of California Santa Barbara. After 17 goals and 10 assists over two seasons, he was offered a Generation adidas contract through Major League Soccer and entered the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.
“I don’t think I deserved it at the time, but I had the offer and it’s a hard thing to turn down,” said Garza. “I didn’t come from a place of having very much money, and I realized it was my dream to play professional soccer and it was too good an opportunity to refuse.
“I worked really hard in that offseason to give myself the best chance during the draft,” added Garza. “I played pretty well during the combine, and the night before the draft I was tipped off that a team in California was interested in me, but I didn’t know who it was.”
Garza was selected sixth overall by the San Jose Earthquakes and would go on to make twelve appearances before being released in 2014.
“My parents travelled up and were right by my side during the draft and we even went to buy a suit the week before,” said Garza. “Back when I was a kid, my parents did so much for me to be able to play soccer and I didn’t even realize it until now. Having them there for such a big moment was special.”
Going to the ‘Quakes ended up being a trying time for Garza. Although Garza hoped to make an immediate impact on the team, San Jose signed Shea Salinas and Mavin Chavez, who both played Garza’s position. He picked up a few minutes throughout the season and scored twice in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, but personal trials took their toll on the rookie.
“When I got loaned to San Antonio Scorpions, it was one of the worst times of my life. I was not enjoying my football. I started to turn things around during the preseason and I was playing well, but that’s when I found out I was getting loaned which hit me hard.
“I wasn’t the most mature and I didn’t handle myself well back then,” he added. “There are a lot of things that I could have done differently, but I was learning how get better as a player, but how to be a professional off the field which was just as important.”
Spending three months of his first season with San Jose injured, he wasn’t worried about making it back. It was the mental aspect of the game he had to overcome before breaking through as a pro.
“When you’re injured, it’s easy to say I’ll just come back bigger, stronger and faster. But when you are healthy and not playing, it’s hard to think about how to grow and get better,” he said. “At the time I was trying to do everything on my own and that’s when I started to dig into my faith and started praying a lot.”
Garza was released by San Jose in 2014, and finished out the season with Arizona United SC of the USL. It was there that he had a chance to play against the Sounders FC Reserves coached by Ezra Hendrickson, the current head coach of S2.
He was subbed on late in the match and was able to make enough of an impression to earn a conversation with Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid following the match.
“I had met with Sigi before the draft, and he said he really liked the way I play,” said Garza. “After that game, Sigi told me Seattle was interested in bringing me up to join the organization.”
In the team’s inaugural match, Garza was subbed on in the second half against Sacramento Republic FC, scoring the team’s third goal on his first touch since coming in.
“Every time I step on the pitch during training or in a game, I get to show the coaches and everyone watching that I belong here,” said Garza. “Everything about being in Seattle is amazing. The quality of play and to be able to play in front of fans who care so much about the team is unbelievable.”
Garza’s determination carried him from not knowing his future only months ago, to feeling like he has the opportunity to break through with one of the biggest organizations in MLS.
“This is an organization that does everything well, from the kit guy to the General Manager,” said Garza. “Every time you put the crest on you represent the quality of the entire organization. To be a Sounder, you want to strive to be the best, and you know that the community will have your back no matter if you are on the First Team or S2. This is the kind of team I have always wanted to play for.”