Greg Garza thought his season with Atlanta United was done after undergoing surgery in late May to repair a torn labrum in his oft-injured right shoulder.
The timeline for recovery was four months.
The work was rewarded when Garza came on as a first-half sub for the injured Chris McCann in last week’s 4-1 loss at Toronto in the regular-season finale. Garza played the final 62 minutes and should be in line as a contender to start Sunday’s playoff game against NYCFC at Yankee Stadium. The second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal will be Nov. 11 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Just getting some minutes back in, especially on the body, just to feel the pressure and to feel like you are involved again is definitely worth the wait,” he said.
Garza said he’s neither worried about the strength in his shoulder (he will still wear a bungee harness as a brace) or his endurance should he need to go 90 minutes in any upcoming game.
“I ran like hell out there for four months by myself, which is a lot worse than training with the team, I can tell you that,” the fullback said.
Garza injured his shoulder against New York Red Bulls on May 20. It was at least the third time sustaining an injury. The first came in last year’s All-Star Game in Chicago and forced him to miss one game. He suffered another injury this season at Minnesota on March 31 missed another game.
After that injury, Garza said at some point the shoulder would need surgery. He hoped to put it off until his playing career was over. After the injury against Red Bulls, it was decided to have the surgery.
“The surgery that was done should keep me from having to go under again,” he said. “Hopefully it stays that way.”
The team has used McCann, Mikey Ambrose and George Bello there - each with varying degrees of success - in Garza’s place. Ambrose seems likely out for the season after suffereing a knee injury. McCann’s injury hasn’t been revealed by the club. Bello suffered a minor injury last week but was back training with the first team on Wednesday. The team also has Jose Hernandez, who has one appearance off the bench this season.
Garza’s return may provide a spark to Atlanta United’s offense. Garza is an offensive-minded, left-footed fullback who typically delivers good crosses. He led all fullbacks in MLS last season in chances created.
“Greg is always threatening in the attack as well, sound defensively,” midfielder Darlington Nagbe said. “He delivers great balls into the box for whoever is in there.”
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