The Tacoma Defiance kicked off the 2019 USL Championship season on Friday with a tense 1-0 win over Rio Grande Valley FC.
The player who scored the lone goal, 17-year-old forward Alec Diaz, has already amassed three goals and two assists from just 402 minutes of professional soccer.
Throughout the past couple of years, the Sounders have received plenty of plaudits for churning out elite, national-team caliber prospects at an eye-popping clip. Players have been profiled in local and national outlets, a clear indication of the club’s burgeoning reputation as one of the top talent producers in the country.
While supporters will know several names of youngsters making their way up the pipeline, Diaz has kept a surprisingly low profile, despite consistently putting up staggering scoring numbers, no matter the level.
“Alec is a very talented finisher,” said Sounders FC Director of Player Development and Academy Director Marc Nicholls. “It’s not just the number of goals he scores, but also the different types of finishes. He’s also shown throughout his time with the club that he can score big goals in big games. He’s improved a lot in the last couple of years, but at the same time, he needs to continue to develop his all-round game.”
What makes Diaz such an exciting prospect? Put simply: He scores goals.
In the 2017-18 USSDA season, the PacNW and Sounders Discovery Program alum scored 35 goals in 36 games for the U-17s and U-19s. Never shy in the big moments, Diaz bagged the game-winning goals in the Generation adidas Cup final and DA national championship match. Through 10 matches with the U-19s this season, he’s already got a ridiculous 13 goals. For the Defiance, he found the back of the net in the last two preseason matches before grabbing the winner against RGV.
A native of Issaquah, Wash., Diaz has improved facets of his playing style, like reading game cues to initiate pressing traps, movement in the channels and isolating and attacking defenders 1-v-1. Now that he’s in the professional ranks, he’ll have to keep up his impressive scoring form to secure playing time.
“As he goes against bigger, older, faster, stronger defenders, he needs to be clever with his movement,” said Defiance Head Coach Chris Little. “That’s a big part of his game that we’re working on. And he needs to hold the ball up. He’s always a threat when he plays off the shoulder [of the center backs], and he threatens the goal, which is good. That’s his instincts.”
Scoring goals, and more importantly having an innate understanding of when chances will pop up, is one of the most difficult elements of soccer. It’s a characteristic Diaz has possessed for as long as he can remember.
“I’ve been playing soccer since I was 3 or 4, and it’s just something I’ve always had,” he said. “I’ve always played up top. It’s just kind of been the way I am. Now that I’m playing professional soccer, it’s really helping me. I’m always trying to make runs in behind and always trying get into good spots.”
Another player rising through the ranks, 15-year-old Defiance midfielder Danny Leyva, was effusive in his praise of Diaz.
“He’s just a guy that scores goals and helps the team a lot,” Leyva saidof Diaz. “He’s an important piece and fundamental player for this team.’’
Diaz speaking to the media after the Defiance's 1-0 win over Rio Grande Valley FC | Charis Wilson
Ahead of the 2019 USL Championship campaign, Diaz spent several weeks participating in preseason with the First Team. Forward Raúl Ruidíaz, a player whose game the 17-year-old tries to emulate, took him under his wing, dishing out valuable advice.
“He was by far the most helpful person to me,” Diaz said of the Peruvian striker. “He’s always mentoring me, on the field off the field, just always talking to me and helping me.”
Diaz has hit the ground running in Tacoma. If he can continue his exploits in front of goal, as well as develop the other components of his game, he may get a chance to play alongside Ruidíaz sooner than later.