Atlanta United defender Greg Garza and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo share something in common.
Unfortunately, it isn’t the upcoming MLS All-Star Game. The four-time FIFA Ballon d’Or award winner is still enjoying the last few days of his vacation — after another European championship — and won’t be part of the festivities this Wednesday in Chicago’s Soldier Field.
On the other hand, Garza is one of three Atlanta United players to face Real Madrid. Midfielder Miguel Almirón and defender Michael Parkhurst will join him for the annual conglomeration of MLS stars. However, what’s a unique similarity between Garza and the Portuguese star is their academy experience.
“I went through the same academy that Cristiano Ronaldo did for about four years of my career,” Garza said. “The baseline at Sporting (Lisbon) was basically how he trained to get us on his level even though we were far from it. It’s pretty cool to get a chance to play against guys like that.”
Garza, 25, was associated with Sporting Clube de Portugal when Ronaldo was a member of Manchester United.
But even without one of the game’s icons, Real Madrid still possess a star-studded roster, including Gareth Bale and Marcel, and they’ll be opposed by an MLS side that features Almirón and Garza, who were selected by the fans, while Parkhurst secured his spot from Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic (who is also at the helm of the MLS All-Stars).
“It’s going to be great to play against one of the top teams in the world,” Almirón said. “It’s going to be a great experience for me and how I mesh up.”
The MLS All-Stars have fared pretty well in recent years against powerhouse clubs, facing the likes of Bayern Munich and Chelsea. MLS teams have won won three of the last five matchups since 2012, most recently, losing 2-1 to Arsenal.
With three players among the MLS’ best in its inaugural season, Garza believes it speaks volumes as to what Atlanta United, which sits fifth in the Eastern Conference, is accomplishing.
“I think that says Atlanta United is pretty darn popular,” Garza said.