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2020 Sacramento Republic player postmortem: Hayden Sargis

Academy product was breakout player of the season.

Courtesy of Republic FC.

Hayden Sargis was one of Sacramento Republic FC’s historic signings in 2020, the first academy product to sign a professional deal with the club alongside midfielder Mario Penagos ahead of the season. While Sac Republic’s academy was already producing players who were turning pro elsewhere, showing there was talent in the pipeline, Sargis and Penagos were the first players to come through the system and up to the first team.

The timing was interesting, with Sac Republic on the way to MLS in two years (since pushed back to three years), and this interim spell in the USL Championship either being a dead period in terms of working towards the MLS era or a time to really get ready for the move up. In signing the two youngsters, they signaled they would be taking the latter approach.

Ok, so Sargis, a young central defender, would he actually get playing time in 2020? Coaches are often extremely reluctant to throw inexperienced players in at center back, since it can be awfully risky to take a flyer on young players in a critical position. Fortunately, Republic FC head coach Mark Briggs had no such qualms, and Sargis played almost every game during the season, becoming a rock and finishing with the second-most minutes played on the team.

Here are Sargis’ statistics for the 2020 season:

Mario Penagos 2020 Statistics

2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
2020 Games Played Games Started Minutes Goals Assists Shots SOG Yellow Cards Red Cards
Regular Season 15 14 1,236 0 0 7 3 4 0
Playoffs 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 15 14 1,236 0 0 7 3 4 0

Not only did Sargis play, but he became an indispensable player in the Republic FC XI. He mostly spent his time paired up with Tomas Hilliard-Arce in central defense, but also got time alongside Matt Mahoney and Dekel Keinan, too, so he got to see a variety of teammates in central defense over the course of the season.

Rafael Diaz’s surprise emergence as the starting goalkeeper may have been the biggest single story of the season for Sacramento, but Sargis’ quick ascension was not far behind. Not only did he play regularly, he played very well and looks like he can be a star. He was a finalist for USL Championship Young Player of the Year and I think his profile will continue to rise.

Obviously, one challenge for a young player coming off a good season is to continue to build and get better. We’ve seen players burst onto the scene and then quietly regress after that, and that’s a pitfall to avoid.

I think it’s early for this, but there’s also the opposite issue, that the hype and pressure can get to young players. I think Sargis playing in the USL Championship will benefit him in this regard. Even if Sac Republic are a big club by league standards, he’s not going to be getting overwhelming hype, and that should help him keep the distractions at bay and just continue to work hard.

But I think Sargis’ ceiling is really high at this point. He’s 18, he already has good size, and he was instantly a starting center back at USL Championship level. I think there’s a chance he could get real attention from MLS teams before 2023, and Sacramento’s presumable plan to have him on the field on opening day in 2023 may not be easy to accomplish if his progress continues to rocket up in the next couple years.

Beyond that, if Sargis really continues to come on in leaps and bounds, I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets interest from European clubs. Interest and a transfer are two different things, of course, but he showed in his debut professional season he’s an unusual player, and I think his ceiling could be all the way to Europe if things break the right way.

Regardless, if he stays healthy and his progress continues, all of this is good news for Sac Republic. If Sargis develops in the club and can play in MLS with them in 2023, then that will fulfill a goal for the club. If an MLS team wants to buy him, Sac Republic should get a decent payday and/or good assets to help build their team otherwise. And if a European team wants to buy him, Sac Republic should get an even better payday for the player.

Again, it’s been just one season, but Hayden Sargis looks like the real deal so far. Keep your eye on this year’s breakout player for Sacramento Republic in 2021 and beyond.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.