Halfway through last season, the Hoops added 22 year-old Mauro Diaz. If he were a boxer, he'd be a Lightweight, but as a center attacking midfielder, FC Dallas hope he can fill a void, stay healthy, and be the dynamic playmaker they envisioned when they brought him on as a designated player.
The lightning-quick Argentinian with top-level South American chops (River Plate) scored three goals and notched two assists in just ten games before taking a knock and missing the last few a season ago. With 2010 MLS Most Valuable Player, David Ferreira, playing this season in his native Columbia (FCD did not pick up Ferreira's contract option), FC Dallas will be depending on Diaz to be a versatile and effective offensive threat.
While we have limited a limited sample size on Diaz, his flashes of brilliance have Dallas fans cautiously optimistic that the young midfielder can be one of the better CAMs in the league. FCD is probably rolling the dice, with attacking midfield being the thinnest position on their roster.
That being said, here are a few of the best CAMs in the league and how Diaz measures-up.
Who he isn't
Small and fast, Diaz won't be physically fending-off defenders like De Rosario or Valeri might. He isn't tall and lanky like Silva either. Most of the CAMs above would probably be classified as "smooth," relying on facilitating seamlessly for other players and being prepared to finish when necessary.
We'll see exactly how he is utilized this season, but I'm also not thinking Diaz will spend a ton of time on the wing either a-la Zusi. Dallas has decent wing play already and the bigger need is in the middle of the field.
At 5' 7", Diaz is anything but lanky. His movement is quicker and shiftier. Instead of going shoulder to shoulder or holding the ball with his back to goal, Diaz seems at his best facing his defender 1 v 1, making precise passes, or taking a strike from the edge of the box.
He might be more like...
Like Diaz, players on this list are a little more twitchy and explosive. They aren't afraid to put shots on goal, so goals might come from anywhere. Higuain and Morales are a little more experienced, so you probably won't find them making as many mistakes as a youngster like Diaz might make. On the flip-side, Diaz also has the potential to display some offensive movement that can spark goal-scoring from nowhere.
The players above are both skilled facilitators and threats from the edge of the box. They all show flashes of what Diaz could be.
A video search of goals by these and other players like them turn my computer into a wow machine, with twisting, bending scores being replayed over and over. These rocket shots or chips of unwitting keepers are the moments we all go to a soccer game to see. Making this season even more intriguing is Diaz' relative youth. Only Martins and fellow Argentinian, Rivero, are in their 20's out of this group and neither are as young as Mauro.
With the limited time we've seen Diaz, the best (optimistic) comparison at this point for me is someone like Martins. In 33 games last season, Martins scored five goals and notched five assists for a Montreal team that finished with only five more points than Dallas last season. Like Diaz, Martins is young (23 years-old), small (5'9", 150 pounds), and has potential to be explosive. The fellow South-American is precocious and precise.
GOAL Felipe Martins scores the 1st MLS goal at Stade Saputo (via Major League Soccer)
The numbers for Diaz in 10 games were obviously better on a per-game basis and his upside may be even higher, but sustained, quality offensive play isn't something that has been easy at Toyota Stadium lately. A coaching change may help this in the long-term, but big offensive numbers early this season would be somewhat surprising as the FC Dallas side figures out who they are going to be moving forward.
One interesting note about CAMs is that a lot of the best ones in Major League Soccer are on the wrong side of 30 or 32 years-old. Diaz will be 23 on March 10th and has an opportunity to put himself in the conversation with the best at his position with a solid season.
The community prediction had Diaz at five goals and nine assists in 28 games. Those numbers might seem low considering the numbers he put-up in a short time last year, but one must remember the kind of season FC Dallas had last season. Add to the mix a new coach (Oscar Pareja), and it could take Diaz some time to re-acclimate and get comfortable in his new full-time role.
Like a college basketball freshman who fans aren't as familiar with, Diaz brings with him a ton of hope and upside. Fans have seen the kind of instant impact he can make, but staying healthy and having a full season of very good play in this league will be a challenge.
All that being said, I would probably take the over on the predicted numbers, especially when it comes to goals. It's true, Diaz is young and may still need significant seasoning. But he has talent and instincts and should see a LOT of time on the pitch barring injuries. Consistency will be the key. If things line-up right for him and his team, Diaz could vault himself into the top five to ten CAMs in the league by the end of this season, a place Dallas would need one of their designated players to be if their sights are at all set on a playoff run.
What do you think? Who did I miss? Who do you think is the best Diaz comparison?