With the possible exception of center back, winger - or, more broadly, wide midfield - is the position that has seen the most significant change for Sacramento Republic over this offseason. The departure of the Republic's undisputed top wide midfielder, Rodrigo Lopez, has left some massive shoes to be filled in the wide left midfield spot.
However, all hope is not lost. There is plenty of talent on the wings for Paul Buckle to take advantage of, with a selection of both wingers and wide midfielders. Let's take a look at who we might be seeing in the wide areas this season.
1. Max Alvarez- It's simple, really. If Alvarez is healthy, he is going to be starting on the right wing. He has a lot of the tools of a good winger: speed, technical ability, good crosses, and the ability to take players one-on-one. Just like a true winger, he is generally more dangerous moving vertically down the field than laterally across it, like Rodrigo Lopez often did.
Alvarez seems to be most dangerous as an inverted winger, starting near the sideline and cutting inside with the ball to create trouble for the defense, make a penetrating pass to set up a teammate, or have a shot on goal himself. When he has been healthy, he has been quite effective in the inverted winger role, something that his place in second on the Republic's all-time assist ranking can attest to.
The issue, though, is staying healthy. Alvarez missed most of the 2015 season due to a string of injuries, only appearing in 18 of the Republic's 37 matches across all competitions and starting only 11. It was one of the great tragedies of last season that he was unable to really get on the field enough to make the kind of impact he did during his fantastic 2014 season. Hopefully this year he can stay healthy and make that sort of impact again.
1. Joaquin Rivas- Although he is listed as a forward, Rivas has been played mostly on the wings since signing with the Republic last season. He has the speed, technical ability, and willingness to take players on to succeed as a winger, and has shown flashes of great play from time to time. For the most part, though, Rivas has so far proven to be simply a good player, not standing out too often for either particularly good or bad plays.
At 23 and in his second season in Sacramento, this could be an important year for Rivas to step up and make some significant improvements. He has shown that he has the talent to succeed, now he just needs to refine his abilities through experience and minutes on the field. If he avoids a sophomore slump and gets some significant playing time, 2016 could be a big year for him.
2. Agustin Cazarez - Once again, it appears that Cazarez is a man without a set position. Although it appears that fullback and central midfield are the two most likely places for the 26 year old to play at, wide midfield is always a chance as well. While he is not a natural at the position, his talents that serve him well centrally, combined with his familiarity with the left wing after moonlighting as a left back, could make him a useful backup on the left wing.
1. Danny Barrera- While Barrera seems to be destined to play in central midfield this season, it could be entirely possible to see him utilized on the wings, as he was a few times last season. He is a talented player, with good vision, good passing ability, and the ability to unlock a bunkering defense better than most on the Republic roster.
The big question is whether or not he is better utilized on the wings or in the middle of the field. Although he has expressed a preference for playing centrally in the past, an argument can be made that he would have more space to influence the game if he was placed in the wide areas, not unlike Rodrigo Lopez.
2. Octavio Guzman - Like Barrera, Guzman is primarily a central midfielder, having played most of his Republic career in that spot. However, he spent a while out on the wings last season and did a fairly good job. Although he does not possess the natural abilities of Alvarez or Rivas that would make him more naturally attuned to the wide midfielder role, Guzman is a well rounded player that can perform what is asked of him in the wide areas.