FRISCO, Texas – Two weeks, two substitutions.
It’s not how many expected FC Dallas midfielder Mauro Diaz to begin his season, not after an offseason that saw many project the young playmaker to be a breakout star in 2015.
Diaz did not seem prepared for it either, as he showed a fair amount of frustration on his way to the bench in the 68th minute of Saturday’s win against Sporting Kansas City.
Fortunately for the 23-year-old Argentine, his head coach has been in his position before.
“I didn’t want to be subbed, ever,” FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of his playing days. “And every time I was subbed, I was right and the coach was wrong.”
What some spectators saw as a problem, Pareja saw as a positive – even though it was he who was upstaged by his talented, young midfielder when his handshake was ignored as Diaz left the field.
“That’s probably the thing I like the most in him, because he reminds me of myself when I was in the pitch,” Pareja said.
“And that’s not a bad feeling when you have guys that are eager to perform.”
Diaz has proven in the past that his talents translate to MLS, recording three goals and three assists in only nine starts during an injury-plagued 2014. He even set up a goal in the club’s Knockout Round playoff win over Vancouver after six months out of the starting XI.
While he has started both games for Dallas so far in 2015, Diaz’s involvement in the team’s attack has been limited for multiple reasons.
For starters, he battled injuries throughout last season and was even instructed by Pareja to focus on strengthening his legs during the offseason. Although Pareja is pleased with the work Diaz put in, he still intends to manage his minutes appropriately.
“Mauro hasn’t played much in the last year. He wasn’t constantly in the lineup in the past season,” Pareja said. “So we’re being patient with him and giving him the opportunity to catch up with the game and the group.”
Another reason Diaz is starting slow, according to Pareja, is because teams are beginning to target the youngster.
“I know the league has a reference of Mauro more,” Pareja said. “I think he’s suffering many fouls. That is part of the game, but somehow the referees in the league will find a way to control that too. Because we can see every game, they’re coming against him more and more.”
Diaz feels the same way about teams incorporating a physical game plan against him.
“I feel that a lot of the teams are targeting me. But that’s how the game is played,” Diaz told MLSsoccer.com through a translator. “Every team, they plan to win. So you have to be prepared for anything.”
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If good health stays on Diaz’s side, his involvement and production should increase as the season progresses.
As far as his demeanor in response to his two quick hooks is concerned, Pareja would not have it any other way, even joking that he'd offer Diaz an alternative position if it changes.
“I will get pissed at him when he’s happy that I get him out,” Pareja said.
“If he’s happy to be outside of the field, I’ll probably offer him an assistant coach position."