After playing in world’s top leagues, Marc Navarro enjoying life with El Paso Locomotive

There are so many different ways to go with the first question to Marc Navarro, the well-traveled Spanish defender with the El Paso Locomotive getting ready to travel to Monterey Bay for a Saturday night match.

Here’s one: What was it like to play against Lionel Messi at Barcelona’s Camp Nou in front of 79,774 fans, something he did in 2018 for Espanyol in a La Liga game?

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“It was crazy,” the 28-year-old Navarro said. “When you are young and you watch the television, that’s one of your dreams, to play with players like that. That’s one history I can tell my sons: I played against the best player in the world in history.

“In the game you don’t think a lot about it, you are focused in playing the game. But now, looking back, yes it was incredible.

“A lot of time (his teammates) ask me about playing against Messi. It was amazing, it was an incredible experience. But now I’m here. I want to prove myself here, to play, to enjoy try to win the league here. El Paso is now my team and I love it.”

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That brings up another obvious question. The Barcelona native was playing in La Liga for a hometown team, Espanyol, and not infrequently, in 2017-19. He then spent two years with Watford in the English Premier League. In four years at the two highest leagues in the world, he played 39 games — not quite full time but an accomplished resumé that seems like it could have landed him in a lot of places when he left Watford in 2021.

So what is he doing in El Paso, in the USL, his first stop after taking one year off?

“I was one year without playing, I came here to again be myself,” Navarro said. “It was a good decision. I am enjoying myself, I’m playing every week, I’m happy to be here with my teammates in this league. I’m starting to feel fit to play. I’m happy with my decision to come here.”

Part of that is that despite his time in the world’s top leagues, there wasn’t a big demand for him when he and Watford parted ways in Nov. 2021. Eventually his agent suggested the USL, which is home to some Spanish players, including El Paso’s Yuma and Navarro’s friend Koke Vagas (they played together with the Espanyol reserves early in their careers) with the San Diego Loyal.

“In the beginning I didn’t know about this league,” Navarro said. “We see Liga, the Premier League, maybe the Mexican league and the MLS. We don’t usually see USL, but when my agent told me about this league, I have friends playing in it, I asked them.

“Koke Vegas from San Diego was in a situation similar to mine and he’s happy here. He had a history similar to mine. That’s what I was looking for.”

There was also the matter of after taking a year off against his will, Navarro was ready to resurrect his career.

“It was a hard year,” he said of the year before signing with El Paso in Nov. 2022, shortly after that Locos season ended and one month before Brian Clarhaut was hired as El Paso’s manager. “I finished my contract with Watford, then I couldn’t find a team I wanted.

“I had to train by myself alone. It was a hard moment, maybe another player would have said, ‘I’m finished,’ but that’s not me. I wanted to keep playing, keep enjoying football, that’s what I love. I finally found this opportunity and I’m so happy to be here.”

El Paso’s happy to have him. Navarro is a mainstay on the back line for one of the league’s top defenses, for a team that can move back atop the league with a win at Monterey Bay. He’s a steadying presence in the back and also in the locker room.

“On the field, he’s a guy — I do a lot of tactics, probably more than many people in this league to be fair — but he’s someone who’s used to that,” Clarhaut said. “It’s normal for him, being in the levels he’s been in. That’s super-positive.

“He’s a good role model for our younger players, he’s a fantastic person. You would never know this guy has played in the Premier League or La Liga. He’s super down-to-earth and he gives a lot of leadership, a lot of guidance to our young players.”

That comes with the resumé.

“I can make good passes from behind the back line,” Navarro said. “I can bring my crosses to score and my defense to keep a clean sheet. My character inside of the team, in the locker room — I’m trying to be my best.”

As for the off-the-field transition, that’s made easier by speaking the same language as so many people here. While Catalan is the main language in Barcelona, Navarro natively speaks what Barcelonans refer to as Castilian and loves being in a place where he can use it.

“It’s good for me, I’m from Spain, this is my first language and I can talk with everyone,” he said. “I feel comfortable here, it’s easy to be comfortable here because I can speak with so many people in my language.

“The most difficult part is being so far from my family and friends. That’s hard. It’s not like you can just get back to Spain any time. But I’m happy, everyone is good with me and I can speak my language.”

Navarro has come a long ways from Spain to speak it, but everything about this El Paso stop on his journey feels comfortable and right for a player who has been on such big stages.

Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; [email protected]; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.

El Paso Locomotive at Monterey Bay FC

What, when, where: A USL Championship match, 8 p.m. MDT Saturday, Monterey, Calif.

Records: El Paso is 9-4-3, 2nd in USL West; Monterey is 7-6-5, 5th.


This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Marc Navarro enjoying life with El Paso Locomotive


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