Coach Eric White and his South Mecklenburg boys’ soccer team met for workouts most days this summer at 8 a.m. on the Sabres’ practice field.
But about 7:30 each morning, White would find senior Marco Garcia and his younger brother, Fernando, a junior midfielder, already covered in sweat, working on their game.
The Garcia brothers say they like to work on their passing and shooting before practices. They often show up an hour before practices. Whether it’s early in the morning or after school, the Garcias are usually in sibling rivalry mode when they hit the field.
“I do everything with (Fernando) and we are always talking or playing soccer together,” Marco Garcia said. “We usually work on shooting on target and finishing at the goal. In doing that, we are also working on our passing, setting each other up for scoring opportunities.
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“With us, it’s always a competition to see who can make the best shot. ... The winner usually gets to drive home, and the loser usually has to buy some kind of food.”
White says Marco Garcia, who he has coached all four years at South Mecklenburg, has the same focus. The 5-foot-10, 150-pound forward/midfielder never wastes an opportunity to improve.
“The thing that stands out about Marco is that is he constantly makes everybody else on our team better ...” said White, who is in his third year as the South Mecklenburg head coach. “His soccer IQ is above and beyond, and he loves to compete at everything. You combine that with his work ethic and it makes him a very dynamic player.”
After earning all-state, all-region and all-SoMeck8 conference honors last season, scoring 18 goals and dishing out 18 assists, Marco Garcia didn’t waste any time getting started on the right track as a senior.
He scored a goal and had the assist of his brother, Fernando, in the season-opening 2-0 win over Porter Ridge, but still wanted more.
“I took Marco out with about seven minutes left against Porter Ridge, and when he came out I told him, ‘Very well done, Marco, good job,’” White said. “He looked right back at me, and said, ‘Not good enough, coach.’
“He’s just a very competitive guy, and he always feels like he and our team can be better. Sometimes he’s competitive to a fault, but I’d take 20 players just like him.”
The Garcia brothers are just a part of an experienced and talented South Mecklenburg team that returned 16 lettermen and nine starters this year.
The Sabres’ offense also depends on players like senior midfielders Manuel Figueroa and Carter Walters, as well as junior midfielder Reed Hunnicutt.
Meanwhile, the South Meck defense is also strong with all-region, all-conference center back Brad Scharf anchoring a unit that features senior goalkeeper Harish Amatya and junior outside back Ethan DeSilva (all-region, all-conference pick last year).
White said he believes his team’s experience, both good and bad, will pay off this season, as the senior class has been a part of 46 wins in the past three seasons, making it to the third round of the playoffs or better in each year.
The Sabres (15-7-2 last year) peaked at the right time, making an impressive playoff run that included a road win at T.C. Robertson (2-1) and 3-2 victory over Myers Park in a marathon, second-round game that went to penalty kicks. But it was the 6-1 season-ending loss to Charlotte Catholic that has been stuck in their minds.
“That loss has been motivating us since the minute that game ended last year,” Garcia said. “The Catholic game left a bad taste in our mouth. We think about it and hear about it a lot. Just the memory of that loss motivates us every day. We can’t let anything like that happen again.”
White added, “Our whole team was heartbroken after that loss. But I feel like that pain has driven us, and will only make us a better team now.”
While the Sabres will depend on a balanced attack, they will need Marco Garcia to be at his best if they are to win the SoMeck8 conference and 4A state crown.
“I try to improve every day on the soccer field,” Marco Garcia said. “But I know the more success I have, the harder it is going to get. It can be frustrating to have one or two guys on you every time you touch the ball.
“But the way I look at it, you have your goals, and I have mine. I can’t let them stop me from accomplishing my goals. I love that challenge in every game.”
Marco Garcia also is focused on earning the opportunity to keep playing soccer in college, where he has gained a lot of interest, according to White. Garcia has two big college showcases on the horizon, first at the Cary Area Soccer League event in September, and then at the Disney Showcase in December.
But no matter what stage he is playing on, Marco Garcia thrives on always believing he can be better.
“I feel like I have something to prove every time I take the field,” Garcia said. “… Everybody has a dream. My dream is to play professional soccer. But to get there it takes steps. When I was at Carmel Middle School, my goal was to be good enough to play for South Meck. At South Meck, my goal was to be able to play college soccer. If I get the opportunity to play college soccer, my goal will be to get drafted and play in the MLS or Europe. I’m never satisfied with where I am now.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
South Charlotte Boys’ Soccer Players to Watch
▪ Nick Aparicio, Providence, Sr., Forward: All-region forward back to lead Panthers (16 goals last year) on a Providence team that is a perennial SoMeck8, 4A state contender.
▪ Davis Hammond, Myers Park, Sr., Center Back: Three-year starter leads stingy, Mustang defense that looks to challenge for the Southwestern 4A conference title.
▪ Justin Brown, Ardrey Kell, Sr., Goalkeeper: Knights’ goalkeeper anchors an experienced team as one of 15 seniors looking to prove they can be at their best in their final season.
▪ Charles Baase, East Mecklenburg, Forward, Sr.: Eagles’ standout netted 27 goals last season (63 career goals) and has a chance to break the all-time, school record (84), while leading his team this year.
▪ Bennett Jones, Charlotte Latin, So. Goalkeeper: Latin goalkeeper had a breakout season as a freshman starter, now looks to help lead a young, Hawks’ team in the always brutal CISAA conference.
Games to Watch
▪ Charlotte Catholic at South Mecklenburg, Sept. 23: If the Sabres want to contend for a SoMeck8 championship they will have to hold serve against the Cougars at home before traveling to Catholic, Oct. 19.
▪ Charlotte Country Day at Charlotte Latin, Oct. 13: Always a lot at stake when archrivals meet for the final time in the regular season here.
▪ Garinger at Myers Park, Oct. 26: The Wildcats have won the last two SW4A conference titles, while the Mustangs are eager to take league bragging rights back, and this game in the final week of the regular season should have conference title implications.
▪ South Mecklenburg at Ardrey Kell & Charlotte Catholic at Providence, Oct. 28: These two matchups between bitter rivals will likely decide the SoMeck8 champion in the final day of the regular season.