“He’s Definitely Our MVP This Season” – Republic FC Goalkeeper Rafael Diaz Has Club’s Full Confidence Heading to Playoffs
Sacramento Republic FC goalkeeper Rafael Diaz was sensational once again, earning his fourth clean sheet of the season in Saturday’s 4-0 win over Portland Timbers II. The hard-working 28-year-old has had to fight for every opportunity he’s received with the club, emerging as one of the USL Championship’s top keepers.
Diaz started the 2020 season as Sacramento’s back-up keeper, behind one of the club’s newest signings; Adam Grinwis. In late July, Grinwis suffered an injury in training that required season-ending surgery, opening the door for Diaz. Immediately, “Rafa” found himself thrust into a massive role with even bigger expectations, as the last line of defense on a club with championship aspirations. It didn’t take long for Diaz to show that he belonged.
With the playoffs beginning this upcoming Saturday, Diaz is third in clean sheets in the USL Championship Western Conference, and has the full confidence of his coaches, teammates, and fans.
“Rafa has been fantastic. I think he has been one of our most consistent performers,” said Republic FC head coach Mark Briggs, “As a goalkeeper you have to stay focused, you have to stay engaged, and Rafa does that, and he’s made big saves in big moments. So for us, going into a playoff game knowing we have a keeper of Rafa’s quality behind us, who is going to turn up and make big saves when we need him – it gives everyone confidence as we move forward”.
Republic FC veteran and former USL champion Rodrigo Lopez had nothing but praise for Diaz, “He’s definitely our MVP this season in my opinion. He’s a guy that came in number two – he was just waiting for his time. He had a brilliant preseason, if you guys would’ve seen him out here when we were doing individual training and small groups, all we would do is shoot on goal and he would be out here for an hour and a half, maybe more, just saving everything”.
Lopez continued to list the qualities that make Diaz the pro and role model that he is, “Rafa has shown what he’s made of. He came in and won the job to be honest. It’s his for a while until he lets it go. He’s the type of guy who just works hard and he’s always mentally strong, he’s always positive, he brings a lot to the locker room as well, a fun guy to be around. Raf deserves every credit that he’s had this year – like I said he’s our MVP – he’s kept us in a lot of games and made saves in crucial moments”.
Diaz responded to the praise of his coaches and teammates after Saturday’s win, “You always want to have the backing of the coach and your teammates. It’s great that they trust me as I trust them. I’m glad and fortunate that I’ve been able to step up and make a couple plays for the team. It’s great to hear a guy like (Lopez) mention you as the MVP, but it’s also a team effort and it takes everyone to be successful”.
Always humble, Diaz made sure to spread the praise around to his teammates, especially his defenders, “The back line this year has been amazing. It takes 11 guys to defend, even the guys from up top. There’s a lot of things that go unnoticed when you see a shutout, the keeper usually gets the credit for that, but there’s a lot of guys doing a lot of dirty work up front to help even the guys in front of me. 100% credit to those guys for working as hard as they do and making my life a little easier”.
With just 17 goals conceded this season, Sacramento is near the top of the USL defensively, having allowed the fewest goals in Group A by a comfortable margin. They finish the abrupt 2020 season with 30 points (8-2-6) and a +10 goal differential.
The Republic will travel to Arizona on Saturday for the opening round of the playoffs against Phoenix Rising FC, who finished top of Group B with 35 points (11-3-2) and a +29 goal differential.
If the Republic want to advance, they will need to rely on Rafa Diaz to contain Phoenix’s explosive offense. Of course, Sacramento has full faith that he will deliver, as he has all season long.