Originally published for the June 2017 matchday magazine.
Midfielders don’t often get the same recognition that the front or backline get. While forwards are praised for getting the ball into the net and the defense for keeping it out, the midfield is sometimes overlooked, despite the fact that the midfield is quite literally the core of the squad.
This season that core has been made up of midfielders Danny Barrera, Jeremy Hall and Agustin Cazarez, with fellow midfielder Daniel Trickett-Smith stepping in at times, forward Tyler Blackwood dropping down on the wing occasionally and defenders James Kiffe and Elliott Hord pushing up. Midfielder Adam Moffat started out the season as part of that core as well, but an injury in mid-April sidelined him until May 28 when he subbed into the match in the 67th minute against Seattle Sounders FC 2.
“The season so far has obviously been up and down,” said Hall. “We started off strong and with the wins and then we kind of went through a little dry spell where we weren’t scoring. We felt like we were doing well, it was just small little details and little mental mistakes. It was good to get back on track with the U.S. Open Cup and against Tulsa [Roughnecks FC].”
“I think our midfield has been working really hard,” added Barrera. “As far as results, it hasn’t shown that way but I think we’re gelling together and we’re figuring it out.”
The bumps in the road for Republic FC Head Coach and Technical Director Paul Buckle and his squad, along with the start of their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup campaign, has meant rotation in the starting XI and bench. Despite this, Barrera, Hall and Cazarez have been constants in the Republic FC squad this season, with Barrera and Hall playing every minute of Republic FC’s 11 matches so far this USL season, as of May 30. They are two of only four players who have started and played in every single USL match this season, the other two being Kiffe and forward Sammy Ochoa.
Despite the rough patches the team has gone through this season, it has already been a record-breaking year on the individual level for Barrera. With his assist against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on May 20, Barrera surpassed the previous record of 13 assists set by Rodrigo Lopez and became Republic FC’s all-time assists leader in USL play. He added assist number 15 against Seattle Sounders FC 2 on May 28.
The 27-year-old Barrera has been a stalwart of the Republic FC midfield. He currently holds the all-time USL consecutive starts and appearances, with 33 and 57, respectively. Barrera also leads Republic FC all-time in all-competition consecutive starts and is just one appearance away from surpassing Cameron Iwasa in all-time all-competition consecutive appearances.
Barrera scored his first goal of the season against the Roughnecks and holds three assists in 11 matches. The midfielder leads the league in chances created with 34, seven more than Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Michael Nanchoff who sits in second place. Out of all 96 assists in Republic FC history by all players, 15 percent of those belong to Barrera. All of this has not gone unnoticed by Buckle, who expects nothing less from his team captain.
“[When] Barrera gets around the edge of the box, I expect him to put it the top goal or at least work the goalkeeper,” said Buckle after Republic FC’s 3-2 win over Tulsa on May 20. “He scored a goal tonight. If he’s going to play as a 10, and he’s going to play underneath the two strikers, he’s got to score goals. And Danny knows that.”
Along with Barrera, Hall has been a regular on Republic FC’s starting XI since he joined the club in July 2016 on loan from the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The midfielder adjusted quickly to Buckle’s squad immediately after his arrival and since then has appeared in 23 USL matches, including a playoff match, for Republic FC.
“Jeremy is a huge part of our midfield and huge part of our team period,” said Barrera. He’s so versatile he can play anywhere. He can move up and create chances, but he’s also very comfortable dropping down to help out the backline.”
Hall signed with Republic FC earlier this year on Jan. 3 and was a part of the team’s preseason training camp in Mexico. He has appeared in every Republic FC match this season, moving up and down the field as needed by Buckle. The team holds a .9 goals against average when Hall plays, compared to a 1 goal against average without him.
“It’s been great to start from day one, doing the preseason with the guys and starting with the coaches to see exactly what they want from us,” said Hall. “Starting last year where I did to getting a full season this year has helped me a lot and it’s just a great group to be around. Everybody loves being here and everybody is excited to be a part of this. We just have a great set up here so being here day one has been a lot easier of a transition for me. Everyone is getting a little bit more familiar with each other and we’re figuring out exactly what the coaches want from us.”
For Cazarez, the 2017 season has been one of the best since signing with Republic FC in late 2014. So far, the 27-year-old midfielder has made eight appearances, all starts, and is averaging 89 minutes per match this USL season.
“I’ve been getting on the ball more, playing forward, getting up and down, cutting off plays which is with that midfield role has to do. “We’ve been working really well, myself and Jeremy, Adam as well. We kind of read off each other which has made us a solid midfield. I think that’s been key. We’re working off each and kind of in-synch which is what we need in the midfield.”
With those numbers, it puts Cazarez way ahead of his playing time in the previous two seasons. In the 2015 season, Cazarez made 16 appearances and 11 starts, averaging 63 minutes match. Those numbers have now skyrocketed for Cazarez. If those numbers stay consistent for Cazarez, he is projected to make 22 appearances and play 1,994 minutes by the end of the season.
“I’ve been doing extra work, before and after training, which has helped and payed off,” said Cazarez. “I’ve worked on little things that I felt I needed to improve, including during the off season. Doing a lot more things to be more mobile getting up and down, being a little bit stronger which is definitely has helped and I’ve felt the difference.”
Despite recent results, the players have a positive outlook towards the rest of the season. As they play more games together, the midfield along with the rest of the squad, are getting more comfortable with each other and clicking into a rhythm that is paying off, as seen in their 3-2 win over the Roughnecks.
“We have new players and it takes some time to gel but as far as the talent we have and the players, work rate and mentality that this squad has, it’s been getting better every year,” said Barrera. “We had a rough start but I think we’re really going to see some good things from this group.”
Republic FC return to Papa Murphy's Park on Wednesday, Jun. 14, when they host MLS club Real Salt Lake in the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. This is the first time in club history that Republic FC will host a MLS club in a competitive match.
Be a part of this historic night as the boys in Old Glory red seek their first-ever spot in the Fifth Round of the U.S. Open Cup!