Possibly the most solid, consistent, and deep position on the field for Sacramento Republic FC, the center midfielders provide a variety of options for defense, scoring, and distribution. The center midfield position suffered some setbacks last season, most noticeably the season ending injury to Octavio Guzman and suspension due to yellow card accumulation for Ivan Mirković.
The Republic were already deep with center midfielders and have even added another player this season. The Republic will need to rely on the leadership and experience of their center midfielders to get back to championship form for the 2016 season. Let's take a closer look at the Republic's center midfielders and some of the new faces who could fill in at times.
1. Ivan Mirković - Mirković brings leadership and energy with his aggressive style of play. This year Mirković was named captain during the preseason match against the MLS side Colorado Rapids and looks likely to wear the captain's armband during the regular season. Mirković is primarily a defensive midfielder, so don't look for him to show up on the score card too much this season. In fact, it was only just last season that Mirković scored his first professional goal and assist.
Where Mirković shines is defending the counter attack with precision tackling and strength. His aggressive style does cause the competition some headaches, which often results in him receiving his share of yellow cards and suspensions.
In order for Mirković to make an impact as the on-field leader this season, he will need to reduce the number of fouls and yellow cards but at the same time maintain his aggressiveness on the defensive end. With many new faces on the team this year, the Republic will need Mirković to stay on the field and guide this young team through what looks to be a difficult USL Western Conference.
2. Octavio Guzman - Unfortunately, Guzman only played in 18 games last season due to injury. He started the 2015 season strong, scoring two goals against the LA Galaxy II and was named to USL Team of the Week in week one. He looked to have a break-out year ahead of him at center midfield before being struck with the injury bug and eventually sidelined for the remainder of the season in August.
Guzman is an offensive minded midfielder and regularly attempts to catch goalkeepers off-guard with long distance shots on goal. Guzman and Rodrigo Lopez complemented each other the last two seasons as two strong scoring midfielders. Sadly, now that Lopez has moved on, we'll have to see if Guzman can mesh well with Danny Barrera, who is most likely the heir to Lopez. If Guzman can stay healthy look for him to be the top scoring midfielder on the club.
3. Danny Barrera - Barrera has big shoes to fill. It's not clear if Barrera will step into Lopez's spot at wide midfield this season, but he does possess a similar skill set as Lopez and could be asked to fill that role. As Barrera enters his second season with the Republic he may accumulate minutes in central midfield and could become a strong leader on the field.
Out of all the center midfielders on the Republic's roster this season, Barrera has the best ball handling and distribution skills. In this way he is very similar to Lopez, who had excellent field vision and found the open player quite often. Look for Barrera to rack up the assists this season.
4. Agustin Cazarez - Cazarez is defensive minded and may also play in the backfield from time to time this season. From a strategic standpoint, Cazarez could come in at midfield alongside Mirković to add some defensive bite and help maintain a lead. The Republic have high hopes and higher praise for this promising midfielder.
"He should be proud of himself. His attitude in training is first class and has given him the opportunity to perform when given the chance. He is versatile and capable on the ball, which allows us to use him in multiple positions in our line-up. He is exactly what you look for in a professional," said Technical Director and Head Coach Paul Buckle last season after resigning Cazarez.
5. Matt LaGrassa - Elk Grove native Matt LaGrassa is new to the Republic this season, but looks to make an impact at center midfield with his scoring ability. LaGrassa scored 18 goals in his time at Cal Poly and recorded 8 assists. It's too early to tell if LaGrassa will fit with the deep Republic midfield, but he could team up with Guzman to give the Republic more scoring opportunities.
Let us know what you think about the strength of the Republic's center midfield position in the comments below.