The Republic return four midfielders from last season including, Keven Alemán, Villyan Bijev, Hayden Partain and Jaime Villarreal. With the departure of Luis Espino, Jeremy Hall, Jure Matajasic and Adam Moffat, the Republic added Ray Saari, Drew Skundrich and Sam Werner— three young, exciting players.
On paper, the depth at midfield this year is much-improved over last season. To be fair, injuries added up at the position last season, which likely hindered their overall impact as a core.
Time will tell on how good this bunch can be, but midfield might be the strength of the team. All seven of these players are all capable of starting, so it will be fun to see who earns the shirt.
Keven Alemán: Costa Rican Keven Alemán is back again and that’s good news for the Republic. While he was injured for a spell last season, when he did play (18 USL games played, 10 starts, 945 minutes played), I liked what I saw both in terms of his attacking prowess and ability to play the ball forward in good spots.
Villyan Bijev: For me, Bijev was right there in the team Most Valuable Player conversation with Cameron Iwasa and Josh Cohen last season. He is so critical to what the Republic want to do. Bijev is the ultimate play maker, especially in 1v1 situations going towards the goal. Every time he has the ball, you’re on the edge of your seat wondering what he will do.
Hayden Partain: Partain really came on late last season making the most of the minutes when Simon Elliott called his number. Who could forget his game in late September where he notched a brace, leading the club to a critical 4-1 win on the road at Tulsa? Not me. I expect good things out of Partain again this year.
Jaime Villarreal: Villarreal is another player who like Adam Mofatt, suffered a season-ending injury in 2018. But if he is healthy, the LA Galaxy alum has the experience and skills to make an impact for the Quails. He is a versatile player, which should come in handy for Elliott.
Ray Saari: Saari most recently played for Seattle Sounders 2 where he appeared in 39 games and recorded four goals and six assists in two seasons. He also appeared in three games for MLS Seattle Sounders as part of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Saari was released by Sounders 2 on September 13, 2018 after battling a hamstring injury sustained in July.
Serving as the S2 captain, Saari has really been a player to watch over the last few seasons. He is known as a defensive midfielder that is good at clogging up the passing lanes and is a solid distributor of the ball. His arrival to Sacramento is huge in my opinion, and I am excited to see the impact he can have at the position and on the team.
Drew Skundrich: Skundrich played for Bethlehem Steel last season where he made 28 appearances (15 starts) — recording two goals and three assists. He was selected in the second round (40th overall) in the MLS SuperDraft by the LA Galaxy, but was not signed by the club.
Skundrich played collegiality at Stanford University where he was part of a team that won three National Titles from 2015-2017. In his four seasons with the Cardinal, Skundrich scored nine goals and recorded 13 assists. In his junior and senior years, he earned All-PAC 12 First Team and All-PAC 12 Second Team honors, while also serving as co-captain.
Republic FC General Manager Todd Dunivant has said that Skundrich was someone they had been watching for some time, and others around the USL believe it was a really nice pick up for the Republic, so it will be fun to watch what he can do.
Sam Werner: Warner also played soccer at Stanford University where he amassed nine goals and nine assists over four seasons (2014-2017).
His sudden-death goal in overtime in the 2017 College Cup propelled the Cardinal to their third-consecutive NCAA Division I title that earned him the College Cup Most Outstanding Player honor. Additionally, Werner was named to the 2017 Top Drawer Soccer College Cup Best XI and he was recognized by Stanford with the Bob Murphy Award, which is “presented to the student athlete whose unforgettable performance in an athletics contest will secure a place in Stanford history.”
After graduating from Stanford, Werner played in Israel before signing with the Republic. He was also affiliated with the Portland Timbers youth system and played with the club’s U-18 from 2012-2014. History would tell you that Werner is a big-time player who shines in big moments. Here’s to him bringing that mentality to the midfield in 2019.
What do you think about the Republic’s midfield? Are you excited about the young players they’ve brought in? Let us know in the comments section below!