Loons striker Mender Garcia hopes double-digit goals follow his ‘workhorse’ ways
Garcia joined MNUFC on a Designated Player contract in August and only scored one goal in 532 regular-season minutes.
ST. PAUL -- Mender Garcia has been establishing a reputation as a hard worker, according to Minnesota United coaches and teammates. He’s trying to prove he can be known for goal-scoring, too.
The 24-year-old Colombian forward was a leader in the club’s preseason fitness tests and displayed a willingness to be the head of Loons’ press in the season-opening 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Saturday.
“He’s such an honest player,” said center back Michael Boxall. “He works his (butt) off.”
Fullback Zarek Valentin added, “He’s a workhorse, doesn’t take a play off, and that’s awesome.”
Garcia prides himself on that standing, but given his striker position, he knows trying hard will only get him so far.
Garcia joined MNUFC on a Designated Player contract in August and only scored one goal in 532 regular-season minutes. He was expected to back up Luis Amarilla to start this season, but Amarilla missed the season opener due to immigration hangups in his native Paraguay.
It gave Garcia an opportunity to start against Dallas, and he scored his first goal of the season after only 48 minutes played. He totaled only 15 touches in 62 minutes but made the most of the only shot he took.
“He’s a lovely kid,” manager Adrian Heath said. “He comes in every day with a smile on his face, works really, really hard, and he’s got a little bit of reward for all the hard work.”
Through team translator Gabriela Lozada, Garcia called it “a great moment, a great start to the year. For me, it’s really important that I scored in the first game. It fills me with confidence, and it’s something that the team wants and needs.”
Garcia’s confidence remained high Wednesday when he scored multiple goals in a short-sided drill, including a nifty back-heel finish. Nobody scored more than Garcia in the training session. He is hoping for double-digit goals in games this season.
“Each time you score in training, you are going to know that you have that confidence there,” Garcia said. “You are always going to be pushed to do more.”
Garcia knows 2022 wasn’t good enough. On top of not scoring, his expected goal total (1.4) showed he didn’t threaten much, either. He had no shots in his first four appearances, had five shots against Portland and a total of eight shots in 11 total games, counting a quiet 46-minute shift in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“I had expectations that I could score more goals,” Garcia said of 2022. “It didn’t happen for me. It was a season more about acclimation where I arrived to meet my (teammates), know the new rhythm. I think it was more of that, but now it’s different because now I have a season complete with the group.”
After Garcia scored Saturday, he had a breakaway opportunity but was taken down by Sebastien Ibeagha in a foul that did not come with a red card. Garcia was hobbled by the takeout and left the game, similar to how he was limping over another collision at the end of Wednesday’s session.
“Since I started playing soccer, I’ve always had the clarity that it’s work more than just the game and playing to have fun,” Garcia said. “Always with the responsibility to (do) things the right way. I’ve always enjoyed working and preparing myself well. Sometimes things don’t go your way, but the work will always reward you, and that has always been the key.”
MNUFC is off this weekend before the home opener March 11 at Allianz Field. With MLS now at 29 teams, at least one club will be idle each week. Chicago Fire didn’t play the opening weekend. … Technical director Mark Watson is returning from Europe, where he’s been trying to finish the acquisition of a young South Korean winger. Heath has been optimistic about the addition. … Kervin Arriaga was named to the bench for the MLS Team of the Week. The Honduran completed 84% of his passes, with four interceptions and three blocks in a 90-minute shift. … MNUFC2 announced 19-year-old center back Britton Fischer has signed a two-year MLS NEXT Pro contract. The Loons have a transfer agreement with Fischer’s previous team, North Carolina FC, but details were not shared. Minnesota had success in bringing fullback D.J. Taylor in from North Carolina FC. … Taylor was a full participant in Wednesday’s session after missing the season opener with a tendonitis injury. … Mikael Marques (thigh) will be out weeks, Heath said. Doniel Henry’s rehab from a thigh injury has progressed to ball work on the side. Brent Kallman (foot) jogged on the side.
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