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2020 Sacramento Republic player postmortem: Rafael Diaz

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Goalkeeper provided the story of the season.

Courtesy San Diego Loyal SC

2020 looked like it would be a predictable season for Rafael Diaz. The Sacramento Republic FC backup goalkeeper would be on call, maybe he’d get a game or three along the way, and otherwise, he’d toil in obscurity.

Of course, the season was anything but predictable, and that went for Diaz, too. The veteran not only got sustained playing time for the first time in years, he became his team’s No. 1 goalkeeper for the first time in his pro career.

Again, it didn’t seem like it would go like this heading into the season. Head coach Mark Briggs said later on that Diaz was in a competition with new signing Adam Grinwis to be the starter in preseason, but given Diaz was already there and Grinwis was the shiny new thing, it wasn’t a shock the new guy got the nod.

But Grinwis suffered a season-ending knee injury after four games, and Diaz’s number was called. And that’s when he really blossomed.

Here are Diaz’s stats in 2020:

Rafael Diaz 2020 Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Saves Goals Allowed GAA Shutouts Win % Save % Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Saves Goals Allowed GAA Shutouts Win % Save % Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 10 10 900 27 8 0.8 4 70 80 0 0
Playoffs 1 1 120 1 1 0.8 0 0 50 0 0
Total 11 11 1,020 28 9 0.8 4 64 76 0 0

Diaz started all but two games the rest of the season, to give new backup Brady Scott a couple games of action while he was in on loan. But Diaz was the undisputed starter in pretty short order after Grinwis went down, the new No. 1 not only coming on in a pinch but elevating Sac Republic’s game every time out.

Diaz never had a bad game in 2020, and several times, he made the big plays to keep Sac Republic in games they would have otherwise drawn or lost. This wasn’t just an eye test situation — he ranked in the Top 10 in the entire USL Championship in several categories: clean sheets, clean sheet percentage, save percentage and goals against per 90.

While Sac Republic didn’t win the league title this year (technically, no team did!), they still had a pretty strong season and Diaz played a major role. He was also the clear story of the season. From a backup who could be counted on in a pinch to a lockdown starter who had to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait for his chance, when he finally got it, he was not only up for the challenge, he thrived in the moment. This is why we watch sports! This is why we get favorites to root for!

Here are some of his highlights from 2020:

Briggs has already said Diaz is the starter for 2021, and the team will be bringing in a backup for him, with Grinwis’ deal not renewed and Scott returning to Nashville SC after his loan. While that’s a tough break for Grinwis, I think it’s deserved for Diaz to not have to wait in the wings any longer. He’s 29, so at the peak or maybe not quite there yet for goalkeepers, and if he stays healthy he could have several good seasons ahead of him. To use a predictable pun, I think Sac Republic are in good hands with Rafael Diaz, and I look forward to seeing what he can do moving forward.

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