Longtime Dynamo target Garcia worth the wait

Houston Designated Player paying immediate dividends for new club

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This article appeared in the August 25 gameday magazine. Click here to view the complete magazine

After a year-long courtship, the Houston Dynamo finally got their Tegucigalpa Talisman. Boniek Garcia, a Dynamo target since the 2011 Gold cup semifinals at Reliant Stadium, signed with the Dynamo on June 7 and helped spearhead a summer surge with his new club.

Garcia made his Houston debut on June 30 against the Philadelphia Union. Since then, the Dynamo have lost just one of 11 games. The midfielder has played 90 minutes in all 11 games, helping Houston to a 6-1-4 record.

The Honduras international was born Oscar Boniek Garcia, but eschews his first name in deference to his middle name, the only name on the back of his orange Dynamo jersey. Garcia’s middle name honors Polish legend Zbigniew “Zigi” Boniek, who helped Poland to a third place finish at the 1982 World Cup and starred for Italian giants Roma and Juventus. Garcia doesn’t treat his middle name with any frivolity, instead treating it with honor and respect.  

“He was a great player, not only in Poland, but also in Italy,” Garcia said of the Polish great. “It’s not only a privilege, but it’s also great responsibility to carry his name and try to do things as well as he did during his career.”

Garcia is off to a good start. At 27, Garcia has been to a World Cup, has 69 caps for his country and is perhaps the best foreign signing in Major League Soccer in 2012.

The boots of “Zibi” Boniek are big to fill, with the former Poland international a member of FIFA’s 100 best players list and winner of the 1985 European Cup with Juventus. He earned the nicknamed “The Beauty of the Night” after Juventus owner Gianni Agnelli said, “Zibi was unstoppable at night. Why? I don’t know, but it was as if he had the genes of a deadly predator who did his hunting at night.”

As the Dynamo negotiated with Olimpia for Garcia, his hometown club had its own reasons to retain the midfielder. While Garcia was eager to join, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the Honduran club, which captured the 2011 Honduran League Apertura title in December and hoped to defend its crown this spring. Olimpia celebrated its centennial with its 25th Honduran title in May, opening the door for Garcia’s sale to the Dynamo. 

“It was a great opportunity to play for Olimpia during their 100th Anniversary season and to be the captain there and win a couple championships the last two seasons,” said Garcia. “But to have the opportunity to play abroad, which is something that I had always wanted, is a great thing for me.”

Garcia has fulfilled the expectations of a Designated Player, integrating into his new team immediately and contributing to Houston’s rise in the standings. The man who led the charge to bring Garcia to Houston is happy with the early returns. 

“We’ve asked him to do a lot of things, and he hasn’t said a word about it,” Kinnear said. “He comes with a smile on his face, he enjoys playing here, and he enjoys the team. He plays hard on both sides of the ball. He is a very good soccer player, with good technique, good pace and good awareness. I think he’s been a great pickup for us.”

Garcia is among a string of impactful Honduran additions to Major League Soccer, including Roger Espinoza (Sporting KC); Victor Bernardez and Marvin Chavez (San Jose); Andy Najar (D. C. United); and Jerry Bengtson (New England). While the Dynamo were bidding for Garcia, he received endorsements of the league from his countrymen.

“Marvin Chavez is my cousin, and my good friend Roger Espinoza, and others who have played here or are playing here, they told me many things about the league,” said Garcia. “They said how difficult it is, how physical it is, and how the level of play has improved so much over the years.” 

Garcia, Espinoza and Bernardez helped Honduras qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Honduras’ first World Cup since 1982 and second in history. Although Garcia did not play in the tournament he relished the experience, which included a 2-0 group stage defeat to Spain, the eventual tournament champion.

“It was a wonderful opportunity after 32 years, even though I didn’t play because of the coach’s decision,” Garcia recalls. “I still learned a lot from all the teams that we played, and all the players that we interacted with, especially the Spanish players. Just watching how fast they play and how quickly they move and how mentally sharp they are, it was just an invaluable experience.”

Two years later, the dynamic playmaker has made an immediate impact with the Dynamo, helping Houston outscore opponents 18-7 since his arrival. Garcia earned an assist in his Dynamo debut, setting up a Brad Davis goal. Garcia continued his torrid form Saturday, assisting on Will Bruin’s goal for his fifth assist in 11 games. Despite missing the first 15 games of the season, Garcia is second on the club in assists. It is no coincidence that Garcia has brought out the best in Davis. Since Garcia’s debut, Davis has three goals and six assists in 11 games and the pair seem like they’ve played together for years, not weeks.     

“Ever since I came in, ten games ago, the partnership has been great from the very beginning,” said Garcia. “I think Brad is a very talented player. He is very good on the ball, and I think he is one of those players that can take over a game, and with two or three touches get us in front of the goal.”

Davis shares similar compliments for Garcia: “With his quickness, his pace, his vision and his touch, it’s easy for me to play around a guy like that,” said Davis. “I think we’ve gotten more and more comfortable around each other. I’m really happy he’s with the team.”

Despite a language barrier between Davis and the Spanish-speaking Garcia, the tandem has found ways to communicate on the pitch.

“Garcia is a smart soccer player and it comes natural. You know where he wants to go, or where he is going to go to make a play. You try and think a couple plays ahead and I know where he is probably going to go, into the spots to make a play. With a guy like him, there really isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said.” 

Dynamo assistant coach Steve Ralston has a good eye for midfielders. The former Revolution midfielder was a seven-time MLS All-Star and holds the league record in assists, games played and minutes and also earned 36 caps for the United States.

“Offensively, he’s been dynamic for us,” Ralston said. “(Garcia’s) great on the ball and he doesn’t lose it. He takes guys on, makes good runs out of the midfield, and he’s been really good for us. He is a smart player. He’s not a big guy, but he doesn’t get tackled too often. He knows how to keep the ball and use his body. He is very clever.”

Two weeks before Houston completed the signing of Garcia, they learned their opponents in the group stage of CONCACAF Champions League. In a random draw, the Dynamo were drawn into Group 3, which includes C.D. FAS of El Salvador, and, of all teams, Olimpia. The coincidental drawing did not prevent the Dynamo from completing the Garcia signing, but it will pit him against his former team, with an away match in his hometown of Tegucigalpa on Thursday and a rematch in Houston on Oct. 23.

“I owe my effort to the Houston Dynamo,” said Garcia about playing his former team. “This is my team, and I have to play the best I can, whether in Honduras or in Houston. Olimpia is a part of my past, and it was a great part of my past, but now I owe myself to the Houston Dynamo and we have to go out there and try to win both games.”

There is a good chance he takes the field against his old mates with his trademark smile, something that is as much of a Garcia trademark as his energetic style of play. On the field, he plays like a man, but with the joyful demeanor of a boy, oblivious to the game’s pressures, pure delight exemplified by his bright smile.  

“The smile has also been one of my characteristics,” Garcia states. “Ever since I was little, I’ve always smiled, it’s just my nature.  I’m glad people appreciate it and see it for what it is.”