Why Alejandro Diaz caught the eye of Sogndal Fotball

Devastated. Alejandro Diaz is one of the most exciting, flamboyant, energetic, tactically intelligent, heroic figures of the Canadian Premier League, and has been for the past few seasons since joining Pacific in 2020. It’s amazing to see the Mexican forward achieve a massive move to Norway and their 1. divisjon. But Diaz helped build something special at Pacific over the past few seasons, with an incredibly vast skillset that extends to all phases of the game. James Merriman’s team remain confident that they can replace him with the depth they have in their squad. We’re not so sure, recognizing that Pacific have now lost one of the league’s best players, and a pivotal member to their principles of play. Here’s why Alejandro “Wero” Diaz caught the eye of Norway’s Sogndal Fotball.

IN POSSESSION

Alejandro Diaz’s passing map vs. Forge on opening day (CANPL.ca)

Alejandro Diaz is one of the most unique centre forwards in the Canadian Premier League. As part of possessing a near-complete skillset, the 26-year-old accomplishes feats you may not normally expect of someone of his size. On first glance, it would be easy to assess Diaz’s play style and quantify him as a ‘Target Man’. He’s physically robust, constantly pushing opposition defenders back, and consistently used as an outlet on high balls and direct play. Then you look further into his masqueraded make-up, and realize he’s only 5’10, with just a 38% aerial win rate. That’s not necessarily bad for a centre-forward, particularly one spending so much time with their back to goal, in front of a defender more easily able to climb over his leap. But it raises a few interesting questions. First, why do Pacific insist on using him as an outlet, in any phase of the game, despite the height discrepancy he likely faces on a game-to-game basis? The answer is clear.

Wero Diaz handles his own from any situation, and adequately competes in the air both when challenging right up against combative defenders; and when moving into space to win uncontested headers. This is where Pacific are able to use their centre-forward as an instant outlet on throw-ins from anywhere on the field, where he aids in the wide overload and wins the first pass.

This is one of the most fascinating elements of Diaz’s game, that makes him an attractive option for any team. His height may be deemed a weakness in fulfilling the requirements thrust upon him by Pacific, specifically in how they target passes into his path. But it ends up being a strength instead, as he uses his robust physicality and timing of movement to perfectly evade the opposition, hold up the ball, and keep the game ticking.

But let’s forget about aerial ability for a second and restate the obvious – Alejandro Diaz is more than just a ‘Target Man’. He’s an exceptional finisher, a fox in the box, and an absolute poacher in the penalty area. Absolutely clinical when given any sight of goal, Diaz has scored with an outrageous 33% of his shots this season, and boasts a perfect record from the spot (100% of penalty kicks scored). In total, that amounted to 13 goals with a further 3 assists in just 18 league matches before his move away. All of his goals this season have come inside the penalty box, even if incorporating a nice variety of head, left foot and right-footed finishes. In fact, six of his goals have come from his stronger right foot, but the other seven have come from his head (four) and his impressive left boot (three). You’ll see a variety of goals being scored, from reacting to rebounds to scoring from set-piece deliveries to finishing off brilliant moves from his mates.

In truth, Diaz’s ability to combine with his teammates is one of the strongest aspects of his game. He’s brilliant in almost playing like a ‘False 9′ at times, drifting deep to pick up possession, or more commonly, coming wide to combine in the final third. He has a strong understanding of the vast skillsets within his teammates’ grasp, and how to best time his movement into the box to meet their desires.

His heatmap illustrates just how much ground the Mexican covers on a match by match basis, and the areas of the pitch in which he is likely to pick up possession. He’s excellent in receiving progressive passes through the centre of the pitch, but he’s equally astute in picking up empty pockets to hammer home a finish in the box.

But as noted, he’s also astutely aware of selecting his moments to vacate the centre-forward’s position, and drift toward his mates out wide. In doing so, he can aid in the overload, and allow others to run into central spaces in behind his position – such as Joshua Heard or Manny Aparicio.

If nothing else, his ability to combine in these wide overloads allows Pacific greater numbers in breaking the opposition down out wide, where more variability can occur between the dynamic and skillful pair of Olakunkle Dada-Luke and Marco Bustos. Not only does he attract defenders toward him in being that unorthodox “Target Man”, but he frees up more fluidity to occur between players who are already adept at reading and exploiting lost causes on a pitch.

His ball control in these situations hardly ever lets him down, boasting a dribble success rate of 58%, and finding himself dispossessed fewer than 1 time per game in 2022. He could improve upon his ability to pass the ball around, perhaps even from dangerous, risky through-ball passes or switches of play. That would help to take the 26-year-old forward’s game to the next level, particularly if seen as more of that “False 9” persona at his future club. But it must be noted that he’s even been capable of fulfilling special tasks in midfield, as can be seen in the image below, where he dropped all the way into initial build-up phases in an early season encounter against York United.

So while Alejandro Diaz could improve upon his creativity in the final third, he’s an incredibly complete footballer, who combines an exceptional goal-scoring touch with fantastic link-up play and an astute awareness of space.

OUT OF POSSESSION

Alejandro Diaz’s exploits don’t stop in his in-possession phases and moments. He’s completely capable of energetically pressing from the front, and leading Pacific’s defensive endeavours. When bypassed, he can remain an instant outlet to be used in transition by holding position. But that doesn’t mean he becomes disengaged. Diaz always ventures to the side of the ball and close to the ball-carrier, where he can aid in developing pressure on the back of the player in possession. His tackle percentage stands out as one of the most impressive facets of his game – timing his tackles to perfection with a 80% success rate in 2022, according to FotMob.

In nearly every match I’ve watched of Pacific this season, I’ve written in my notes something along the lines of “Diaz working incredibly hard out of possession”. He bounds around with a tireless energy, even if not the quickest of motors. He’s quick to close down players in the wide areas, screen passes into the opposition’s ‘number 6’, or lead the line after the first pass on goal kicks. This makes him an attractive option for any team looking to build a high pressing mentality, where he can use his imposing frame and stuttering strength to disrupt build-up play and throw himself into tackles at the exact right moment.

CONCLUSION

Anyone who’s watched Pacific this season will know that it’s no surprise for Alejandro Diaz to be picked up by a European club, for a club record fee. The devastating part is just how remarkable Diaz is as an entity for the Canadian Premier League, scoring goals at an exceptional rate, without ever making goal-scoring his entire identity. We will dearly miss Diaz in the Canadian Premier League, but wish him the best of luck on his future endeavours at Sogndal Fotball.


So there it is! Why Alejandro Diaz caught the eye of Pacific FC. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, Scouting & Recruitment pieces, and don’t forget to follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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