Jesus "Jesse" Garcia has come a long way in a short time with the San Jose Earthquakes youth academy.
A brilliant all-around player, Garcia has added polish and defensive tenacity to his game after starting out as a 15-year-old role player. He is currently the unbeaten under-18 team's leading scorer and a co-captain.
Top-flight coaching has been key to his development.
“Our coaches keep us focused on what’s important, things we need to improve on,” said Garcia, 18. “They motivate us to be better, to be the best we can be. Plus, the superior training methods and the quality of competition we face are top-notch. The coaches are so good at just letting us play, that makes things easier for us.”
Garcia said that playing for the Quakes has provided some of the most memorable moments in his life. He scored the winning goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps in a reserve team match earlier this season. The speed and physicality of the reserve matches makes playing in the normal U18 matches a little easier for him.
“I thought I’d be nervous playing in front of 15,000 people,” he said, “but once I got out there it was just like any other game.”
Garcia, a senior at Livermore High School, hopes to play college or professional soccer after his time with the academy. But nothing is set in concrete. He also has a love of cars and a passion to work on them, something he might fall back on if soccer doesn’t provide the future he hopes it will.
But based on his performance and leadership this season, it appears the future is his for the taking. He has six goals in five matches, and Academy Technical Director Chris Leitch put it simply: “He’s been our best player this season.”
A leader on and off the field, his teammates have voted him as a co-captain.
Garcia downplays his scoring, saying, “Last year, I was more of a distributor, but this year, we have more talent, and I’ve been on the receiving end of some real good play from my teammates.”
The undefeated U18 squad has a huge weekend coming up with home matches against two Northwest Division rivals, Portland and Seattle.
“Our coaches have been preparing us for bigger, more physical teams like these, so I think we will be ready to go in both games,” Garcia said.
Working on positioning and playing the ball in the air has been two of the main focal points in practice the last two weeks.
Garcia feels like his matches with the reserve team will again give him experience to fall back on. “With the reserve team, there’s more focus on playing the ball with just one or two touches,” he said, “and that serves two purposes -- keeping the defense moving as well as maintaining the flow of the offense. And those are two areas we must have this weekend.”
This year’s team is off to a special start, going 5-0 and leading the division with 15 points. Garcia, who started 26 games for the academy last season, said that he’s never played on a team that has gone this far into a season unbeaten, but that hasn’t distracted him from the goals at hand – improving, focusing on each match as the most important of the season, and winning.
With such an approach, it’s easy to see why this year’s version of the U18 Quakes academy team has been so tough.