FCD’s best playmaker over the past few years has only played a handful of minutes in MLS this year, coming off the bench in four straight matches dating back to a May 28 scoreless draw against Texas Derby rival Houston.
That could be changing as soon as this Friday’s rematch at the Dynamo (9 pm ET | UniMas, Facebook.com in the US, MLS LIVE in Canada), with the Argentine logging a full 90 for the first time since suffering a torn Achilles last October in the team’s US Open Cup win last Wednesday.
“He’s ready,” head coach Oscar Pareja told MLSsoccer.com. “We’re trying to control the load and trying to get him fit the best way possible. But at this point, I feel like Mauro’s ready to compete if we want him in the XI. He’s ready to start.”
After last Wednesday’s Open Cup win over Tulsa, Pareja said he felt Diaz got stronger as the game went on. Diaz, via translator, said he struggled to find his footing at times, and that the heat started to play a factor late, but that he too felt stronger later in the match.
His teammates are beginning to take notice too, which is a welcome addition to a club that has statistically mediocre in scoring this season – 22 goals in 15 games, tied for 11th in MLS.
“I think he started to shake off the rust,” fellow midfielder Kellyn Acosta told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s still got the vision and the touch, but he needed to just fine tune some things. But it’s definitely coming. In practices, I see the little magician is back.
“We still have a lot of games to go, and I know he’s excited to be back with the group,” he continued. “He spent a long time out. Each and every game, the minutes he gets, I can see on his face that he’s really excited to be back out there.”
Acosta has played in two of the MLS games Diaz has appeared in this season, including in his return to the pitch late last month. He said when Diaz came in, even logging just eight minutes of action, the entire dynamic of the team changed.
“He makes us a more dangerous team,” Acosta said. “He’s a player that a lot of teams definitely have to worry about. He’s a guy if you give him an inch of space, he’ll kill you. It showed a lot last year. He can find a pass behind the cracks. He’s definitely a special player, and I think when he’s on the field, we’re a more offensive and dangerous team. When the ball’s at his feet, a lot of good things happen.”
Added Pareja: “Mauro is a very good player, and he has been for the past three years. He knows what we want. He knows what the players’ movements are too. I have said this before, Mauro turns on the lights for us in the spaces for the field where we need it.”
Outside of fitness, one of Diaz’s biggest adjustments could be adjusting to some of the team’s newer additions that didn’t share the pitch with him in October, including Roland Lamah and Cristian Colman.
But Pareja isn’t worried and is confident his “little magician” will adapt just fine.
“We know that he’s gelling, he’s feeling more comfortable, and the players are getting used to him again,” Pareja said. “So we’re progressing.”