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Opinion: Danny Barrera and Cameron Iwasa were the bright points of a so-so Republic season

What was the biggest positive of the 2016 season? I've got two answers.

Indomitable City Soccer/Alex Leguizamo

The 2016 season was one fraught with successes and failures, both large and small. Although we can (and have) written about the low points of the season, today I am focusing on what was, in my opinion. the biggest positive of the season.

To me, the greatest success story that could be drawn from this season of Republic football would be the emergence of Danny Barrera and Cameron Iwasa as able replacements of Rodrigo Lopez and Justin Braun, who were perhaps the two most vital cogs for the Republic last season. Personally, when the season started I was very skeptical that the production that sustained the club last season could be found from any currently rostered player and had formed a hopeful but realistic perspective of what numbers would be produced. Thankfully, the hopeful side of that view was rewarded when both Iwasa and Barrera achieved statistics that closely mirrored, and in certain cases exceeded, what was left on the table when Braun and Lopez departed the squad.

In 2015, Lopez accumulated an impressive 12 goals and 6 assists in 30 games. However, the numbers themselves fail to paint the whole picture as the attacking pressure that was consistently brought by Lopez, which created additional opportunities for others to garner goals and assists. This incomplete image also fails to take into account the number of opportunities that were failed to be converted through no fault of RoRo.

Heading into the 2016 season, I thought that the biggest regression us Republic fans would witness was within the play of the central midfield. Although he was talented, I was not completely sold on the ability of Barrera to pick up where Lopez had left off. The results, however, led me to enjoy some tasty crow as Barrera posted a stat line of 3 goals and 9 assists.

One might question how scoring 9 less goals could constitute an acceptable substitution. I would retort in addition to the increase in assists, Barrera was fairly consistent in his creativity and driving of the offense, which helped the players around him succeed, much as Lopez had done in seasons prior.

Our offense did not seem to lack much outside of a few early games where the goal seemed to have an invisible force-field surrounding it. Looking at the offense production in a vacuum it is easy to think that this season was a big let-down for the Republic, as only 43 goals were scored this season against the 59 scored last season. However, the increase in quality possession, especially within the midfield, led to a goal differential of 16, whereas last season only posted a goal differential of 11. It could be argued that the midfield as a whole was more efficient and impactful this year, with Barrera leading the way.

The midfield was not the only area in which the 2016 Republic squad exceeded expectations and produced at an unexpected level. The replacing of Justin Braun’s 8 goals from last season was, on the surface, not all that unobtainable. What made the possibility slim was the fact that the player to fill that void was seemingly not yet on the roster.

To the surprise of many, myself included, Cameron Iwasa came almost out of nowhere to be an offensive force for the Republic. His 12 goals, many of them of the extremely clutch variety, easily eclipsed the 8 scored by Braun. Iwasa’s tally came on an impressive 31 shots-on-goal and proved that an increase in aggression and tactical awareness is a boon for any striker. Compare those numbers to the 27 SOG’s that it took for Braun to reach his total of 8 last season and one can clearly see this season’s improvement at a position that was fairly prolific last season.

Not only did Iwasa score more than Braun, he was also a more accurate shooter. His 31 SOG on 59 total shots was a slightly higher percentage (53%) than Braun’s 27 SOG on 54 total shots (50%) and end result of these numbers was a 4 goal advantage for Iwasa.

Even more amazing was the fact that Cam only netted 2 goals in 2015, so the advancement as a player was excellent to witness as a fan. Given the hometown connection and the increase in production, it is not surprising that Iwasa has become a favorite among the fans.

While the season ended in a pretty disappointing fashion, there were quite a few bright spots, most notably Danny Barrera and Cameron Iwasa. I will be the first to admit that I was borderline pessimistic at the beginning of 2016. However, I will not make that mistake again, as the squad seems to have some good pieces in place for season’s to come.

What do you think was the biggest positive of the 2016 season? Sound off in the comments below!