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In praise of Agustin Cazarez, Republic’s unsung midfield engine

Republic’s often unheralded midfielder has become its most important player.

Joseph de Ocampo

Yes, you read that correctly. Agustin Cazarez is more important to Republic’s success right now than Danny Barrera, Emrah Klimenta, Sammy Ochoa, or Wilson Kneeshaw. The compact midfielder has taken on an increasingly controlling role in Republic’s midfield this season, and when Cazarez puts in a good, aggressive, attacking performance, the entire squad is boosted to the next level.

Cazarez is one of Republic’s longest serving players. Initially used as an auxiliary fullback (a wide defender, like Kiffe), Cazarez would later find a home deputizing in the midfield when Ivan Mirkovic was suspended (fairly often) or injured. He put in dependable, if uninspiring performances.

His primary task was that of a ‘recycler’, responsible for moving the ball across the pitch laterally and making himself available as an easy outlet for the center-backs during build-up play. Passes from Cazarez trended sideways and back. Safe, secure passing with no risks, and — to be honest — not a lot of energy. That was the tempo he set. Forays into the attacking third were few and far between.

This season Coach Buckle has Cazarez playing more aggressively and as of late his influence has grown tremendously, to the point where I feel the squad plays to his tempo, his level. While the sample size is not great yet, I think the last two USL games really illustrate this.

First up is the map from Republic’s 2-2 draw with Seattle Sounders FC 2. For this game, Republic moved away from the 3-5-2 that served them so well in the previous two matches. It was, in my opinion, an awful game. Republic looked disjointed and delivered little continuous attacking threat. This is what that game looked like for Cazarez:

Cazarez heatmap of touches against Seattle Sounders FC 2, May 28, 2017
Opta

A solid block in the center of the pitch. In this match Cazarez did his usual job; clog up the opposition’s passing lanes and become an open man to receive passes, then make a safe pass for someone else to distribute. A week earlier against Tulsa Roughnecks however, he had a very different game:

Cazarez heatmap of touches against Tulsa Roughnecks, May 20, 2017
Opta

Against Tulsa, Cazarez was dynamic. He made late runs towards the box and delivered an assortment of dangerous passes forward though the middle of the pitch. While the scoreline was close, I thought Republic dominated the game. The team was fun to watch and had the final product to match the superiority in possession.

While we don’t have data for it, the US Open Cup game against Reno on May 31st was an even more telling illustration of the “new” Cazarez. He delivered some absolute rocket shots to force two or three saves that went out for corners. His passing was positive, looking to break attackers rather than make the easy pass back. Defensively, Cazarez was all over the pitch putting in a Mirkovic-esque performance, hounding the opposition, blocking passes, and making tackles. He was my Player of the Match by a mile.

I’ve had this theory for some time that if a decent team has a player who goes unnoticed, where you think “what exactly did they DO all game” that player has the ability to be the most influential on the pitch. If you, diehard SRFC fan, don’t notice them, the opposition likely does not either. Old game film of Cazarez won’t be useful for opposition scouts if he sticks to this new kind of play. He can surprise other teams. While Barrera is often man marked or double teamed, Cazarez can find open space in the midfield and take control of the pitch. Having him in a more aggressive, attack minded role brings the best out of the Republic squad.

The evolution of Agustin Cazarez has been interesting to watch the past three seasons. It is great to see a player re-invent themselves several times and grow into a better, more complete player. Cheers to Auggie, new king of the midfield!