Casa Grande, Ariz. • The plan was devised to get Olmes Garcia to a soccer field. While he was supposed to be in the house at night, lying fast asleep in his bed, he plotted for ways to sneak out. His friends had figured it out, so he had to follow suit.
The neighborhood kids played soccer at night in his hometown of Istmina, part of the northwestern Colombian region known as Choco. So rather than staying in, Garcia needed a way to get out.
Olmes Garcia file
Age » 21
Position » Forward
Hometown » Istmina,Colombia
Pro career » Deportes Quinido (2011-2013), Real Salt Lake (2013-current)
Numbers » Five goals, five assists in 29 appearances as a rookie in 2013
So his friends scurried to Garcia’s house to meet at the window. They brought with them soccer cleats because Garcia didn’t own any. And when the appropriate time came to make a dash for soccer field, the now 21-year-old Real Salt Lake striker sprinted away with the group, cleats in hand.
Each venture of Garcia’s life has surrounded soccer and each time it’s catapulted him to another level. It started in beautiful, yet rugged terrain surrounded by jungle and now has him poised for a breakout year at Rio Tinto Stadium in the Salt Lake Valley.
When he was 7, Garcia played on gravel fields with his father. At 14, his still-evolving blend of size and speed and skill earned a spot at a local residential soccer academy where, much like RSL’s youth academy in Casa Grande, Ariz., players woke up early, trained and studied. He’d showcased his talents as a youngster playing with adults from the time he dribbled the ball around the fields of rock with his dad.
It’s what led RSL to finding the jovial Colombian with Deportes Quinido, a club in the country’s first division. It’s what led RSL to paying a significant — also undisclosed — transfer fee for the raw forward, one that was comparable to the fee of midfielder Javier Morales or former defender Jamison Olave.
Garcia is considered one of several essential parts of RSL’s future, and specifically its attack. He is part of a versatile and talented group of forwards including Alvaro Saborio, Robbie Findley, Joao Plata and Devon Sandoval, but Garcia’s dexterity on and off the ball can be stunning at times. While he played in 24 matches in 2013, notching five goals and serving four assists, his goals often left fans — and teammates — wanting more.
"He has everything to play with the big teams in the world," Morales said. "But the biggest thing in soccer is to try and figure it out."
Garcia’s strike at Vancouver last April was evidence of what RSL invested in a young, raw forward from Colombia. His long, bending right-footed shot from outside the box was an unstoppable strike. Later in the year against the L.A. Galaxy, Garcia torched the L.A. back line for two goals as a substitute.
"He’s got everything," defender Nat Borchers said. "What you want to see from young players is to start to develop consistency and needing to stay healthy; if he does both of those things, he’s going to be taking his game to whole new levels."
Still on a title-contending team filled veterans in their prime, Garcia stands out as a player of intrigue. As a rookie in Major League Soccer last year, former coach Jason Kreis often kept Garcia in his back pocket as a substitute to use for the last 30 minutes of the match to pester defenses and out-run opponents. Garcia knows he must figure out how to stay in the flow of an entire match in 2014.
"I have talent and I need to learn more every day and keep developing," Garcia said through a translator.
New RSL assistant Paul Dalglish said Garcia and the club’s other young talents were part of a final selling point to join the club. A former forward and son of Liverpool coaching legend Kenny Dalglish, Paul said he must show Garcia how to utilize his abilities.
"He’s got pace and power and technique," Dalglish said, "but it’s my job to teach him the game and add the tactical knowledge to his attributes that he already has."
Aware of the club’s significant investment in him, Garcia’s brightest days could lie ahead of him if he can piece the puzzle together. In the meantime, he’ll remain the 21-year-old kid who dances on the field and scores goals leaving most everyone wanting more.
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