Audie Garza stepped off the plane in Spain and immediately felt at home.
The former MFC Rebels Red forward and Sierra High star has spent the last three months on residency with Valencia CF, living and training with the La Liga club’s Montreal academy.
Garza made the life-changing trip with another Rebels Red player, Cole Ballard, a 6-foot-1 center back originally from Anchorage, Alaska.
While both players have completely acclimated to their new club and surroundings (snowy Quebec, Canada), their recent trip to Spain, offered Garza a refreshing slice of home.
“It felt like California,” said Garza, who was reunited with his family in Spain, “but better. The weather was nice, especially since I’ve been in the cold and the snow. … The snow is too cold.”
Garza (2005) and Ballard (2006) have impressed since joining Valencia’s top North American academy. Both players found the back of the net at a Canadian under-19 combine, and Garza’s play earned him interest and offers from a handful of Canadian colleges.
“(Cole) scored a monster goal on the back post off a corner,” said scout Matt Martin, who traveled to Spain with Valencia’s Montreal academy and, along with MFC Rebels coach James Burns, helped create the pathway to Montreal. “Towering over the goalkeepers to the far side of the netting.”
Garza found the net again at a showcase in New Hampshire hosted by Black Rock FC (New York) in February. With Division I scouts from across the country in attendance, including UCLA, Notre Dame and Connecticut, Garza tallied his only goal of the event on a brilliant individual effort in a game against Black Rock Immaculate Heart.
The fleet-footed forward dropped back into the midfield to take a ball of a player and then raced onto goal, using his unique speed to blow past the defense. His initial shot was blocked, but he picked up the carom and slotted it home.
Burns attended the showcase to watch his former players.
“I’m proud of the way Audie and Cole have raised their game to meet the level of competition,” Burns said, “but I’m proudest most of their determination and drive as they chase their life’s goal.
“Both boys want to become professional soccer players and they understand the sacrifice it takes to hunt your dream. They have taken nothing for granted, whether it was our training sessions with the Rebels, extra work in the gym, or leaving everything behind -- family, friends, and school -- for this residency.”
In Valencia, Spain, Garza and Ballard worked out with several club coaches, watched the first team play and explored the country and culture during their 10-day stay. During his residency, Garza has learned how to use his body to gain advantage, offensive and defensively, and how to find and create space on the field.
“In my time at Valencia, I’ve learned that you always have to give it your all at practice, so when the game comes you are ready to play,” Garza said. “My favorite part of the trip was to watch the first team play and to be able to practice with different Valencia coaches.”
Garza credits the Manteca Futbol Club for preparing him for this experience. With coach Burns and the Rebels program, Garza was taught the importance of accountability and responsibility, as well as understanding the power of the team dynamic.
“MFC prepared me for this experience by trying to go to all the practices,” he said, “and to have a good connection with your teammates so we can make all of us better.”
In four seasons with the Rebels, currently ranked No. 2 in Northern California, Garza helped the club to several trophies and lofty state and national rankings. MFC captured State Cup and multiple national-scale tournament titles.