Cross The Line contacted Sam Garza at Arizona United to discuss how Jesus turned his life upside down and how he now plays to glorify God.
So, Sam was it always going to be Pro Soccer for you?
“Yes. Ever since I was a kid I had aspirations to play professionally but it didn’t really start becoming a realisation until I was at the University of Denver and playing for the United States Men’s U-20 National Team. Then I started to realise that I had the potential. I transferred to UC Santa Barbara and soon signed a Generation Adidas contract with the MLS!”
What was the feeling when you were drafted for San Jose Earthquakes, making it as a professional?
“I was absolutely ecstatic! Dressed to impress and ready for the lights! I was squeezing my dads leg and sweating profusely because I was so nervous. When the MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, called my name during the 6th pick I was the happiest kid on the planet. I was kinda tipped the day before on where I would go but to actually hear my name be called, especially on live TV, there was no feeling quite like it!”
What was your stand-out highlight from your time at San Jose?
“Well to be honest, it was more of an emotional roller-coaster than anything. A lot of great moments and a lot of not so great moments, like when we won the 2012 MLS Supporters Shield. What the team was able to accomplish in the season and to be a contributor to the team was the best moment. As someone who contributed, I was able to score two goals in a 2-1 win against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the US Open Cup.”
Who is the best player that you have played with in your career and why?
“When I was with the Seattle Sounders 2 of the USL, I had the pleasure of training with Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins! As an American legend, I had high expectations and getting to train with Clint and Oba, they even exceeded them in training. The types of things they could do, especially together, was something special. I was so grateful I was able to train with and watch two of the best. But as an actual team-mate, the best player I have ever played with has to be Simon Dawkins from San Jose Earthquakes. I don’t think he ever lost the ball in training. He scored ridiculous goals in that Supporters Shield season and was one of the key players of that 2012 team. Not only was he an amazing player, he was an even better person!”
What do you like to do in your spare time, when you are away from soccer?
“I love to play Xbox with my friends and love to relax and watch movies in my down time. There’s no grind like professional soccer so I love to relax and chill out as much as I can. Especially during the season because it can be stressful at times.”
How are you enjoying life at Arizona United in the USL?
“I am loving my new team so far. Frank Yallop was my coach and the one who drafted me to the San Jose Earthquakes. He is one of the all time great coaches in the MLS and to be reunited feels great. I am so thankful for the opportunities he has given me in San Jose and here at Arizona United. There’s a great atmosphere within the locker room and we have a bunch of great lads who are willing to put the work in so I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead this season.”
Let’s talk off the pitch now, where did you find a relationship with Jesus?
“Definitely not until I completely lost myself in San Jose. I mean I obviously knew him through church, with my family and Sunday school as a kid but never had a personal relationship with him until I realised it wasn’t about me any more. While at San Jose I completely lost the reins and found myself in a depressed like state. I wasn’t playing very much, I had a girlfriend who was dragging me in the wrong directions. I had lost my drive and lost purpose in what I was doing. I had completely lost my identity and began to sulk in my own self sorrows. It was when I started attending bible studies and Garden City Church in Santa Clara that I began to find Jesus and his word through scripture again. I felt energised and full of hope as he infiltrated my life once again!”
Is it hard to balance the pro soccer lifestyle whilst also living a life that is glorifying to God?
“Yes. Well for me, I was living a life that was glorifying myself. My entire life, all I have known is soccer and as I began to lose it in San Jose I had lost my identity. It was no longer about me any more. I had been the king of my own life and idolised soccer and everything it came with. I never fully realised that God is the one who gave me this ability and I should be thanking him and glorifying him in all that I do.
I think it is super easy to get lost whilst playing professional soccer. That is your job, all you do is play and have a lot of time outside of it. It’s easy to get sucked in by the temptations that surround young professional athletes. The fame, the glory, the money. Unfortunately I lost myself in my emotions and when I did those temptations took over and I felt empty inside. It’s super easy to get lost while trying to live a life that glorified God. The main thing to remember is that he is with you no matter what and if you stay true to him through constant prayer and scripture he can take you to higher places than just professional soccer. Trust!”
Are there any players in soccer that you share your faith with?
“Well the two guys who invited me to the bible studies in San Jose were my team-mates, Shea Salinas and Nana Attakora.
We made it a weekly thing with some of the other people at Garden City Church we did Church on Sunday and bible study on Wednesdays! So far here at Arizona my team-mate Blair Gavin and I have had a couple of discussions about our faith!”
Does God feature in your match day routine? If so, how?
“He didn’t used to be but now I definitely wake up and read some scripture and pray before matches.”
Do you see your footballing ability as a gift from God?
“Yes of course. He’s the one who gave me everything. Like I said before, I used to live thinking I was the king of my life while not realising that God is the one and only King. Everything I do, I glorify him!”
Does this affect how you play the game?
“Consistency is something I’ve struggled with for a while and I have got better at sticking to a routine with my bible and constant prayer before I play in training and games. I think that if I go and enjoy playing the game, while giving thanks to him, the rest will take care of itself.”