Replacing Alejandro Diaz at Pacific FC

Following the loss of eventual CPL Golden Boot winner Alejandro Diaz, Pacific FC immediately went from title contenders to top four contenders, scraping into the playoffs with a fourth-place finish come the end of the season. The repeated line as the likes of myself and CPL.ca wrote about Pacific became all about how things could have been very different for Pacific in front of goal had they only had that missing link. Diaz was everything to the Pacific attack, acting as both a ‘False 9’ capable of dropping deep and receiving the ball, and somehow even fulfilling duties as an occasional ‘Target Man’ despite his 5’10 height.

He linked up with Marco Bustos and Manny Aparicio magnificently well as the trio dovetailed around each other, and his desire to drop deep often allowed Joshua Heard to run into the vacated space behind. Pacific signed Electric City striker Jordan Brown to try and make up for the loss, but it was clear that Brown was a far less dynamic player, and far less clinical in front of goal. So now after missing out on the CPL Playoff Final and a chance to repeat their win of last campaign, the main task for Pacific in this off-season will be finding a suitable replacement for their big man up top. With that, we analyze the essential characteristics in need of replacing when it comes to Diaz and his game, and four possible replacements from around the globe.

ALEJANDRO DIAZ’S STYLE OF PLAY

Before we find a player to replace Alejandro Diaz, we must first understand his own unique characteristics, and why he thrived for Pacific FC. Diaz was essentially the perfect mix of solidity in possession, dynamism through the thirds, and that clinical edge in front of goal. But as a smaller than average striker, he often played almost like a ’10’ in that ‘9’ role, often popping up late on at the end of moves to score goals. He scored a variety of different goals from his head to both feet, often aiming for those bottom corners. Not only was he clinical in front of goal, but perceptively aware of how to attack the space in front of him to create the optimal scoring chance. If finding himself in open space, Wero would constantly re-assess the situation to ensure he’d be in the right position come the timing of the pass. It’s no surprise why Sogndal IL wanted to take a shot on the Mexican striker, and it’s even less of a surprise that he’s continued on his scoring form in Norway.

Recognizing his specific assets for Pacific, we are not searching for a ‘Channel Runner’ dynamically racing in behind an opposition high-line, or a late finisher of moves that fails to engage in the play deeper on the pitch. We want someone who is capable in possession, and can play almost like a ‘False 9’ as they engage all over the field. Unfortunately for Pacific, when it comes to centre-forwards in the CPL, the only one who can compare is Joao Morelli, who spent the entire season out with an ACL injury. Morelli is similarly fantastic on the ball, and actively wants to engage deeper on the field to pick up possession and then drive the team forward. He’s a better dribbler and often wants to strike from distance, but he’s more than capable of filling a similar void. But a move away from HFX would be unlikely, especially given the price tag for a man who spent all of 2022 out injured. So we examine outside the box options to replace Diaz, considering cut-price options from across the globe. Here are the candidates.

Agustín Auzmendi

We begin our journey to replace Diaz in Honduras, with Olancho’s man in form Agustín Auzmendi. The 25-year-old is another small centre-forward capable of punching above his weight, and clinically finishing off chances in the final third. Incredibly intelligent in front of goal, the Argentinean forward has scored 9 goals in his first 8 appearances in Liga Nacional Apertura this season, with an xG per 90 of 0.64.

Always popping up in the right places to finish off chances, Auzmendi is capable of scoring all kinds of goals – with both feet and his head. His goal conversion sits at 31%, narrowly trailing Diaz’s demonstrative tally of 31.4%. The 25-year-old’s movement inside the penalty area is also top notch, finding the right spaces to attack to meet the timing of the pass and hammer home the finish. Transfermarkt has his value listed at just $28 thousand, which would be a bargain price for a club like Pacific in search of a striker.

One of Auzmendi’s greatest assets is his ability to handle situations under immense pressure. He’s capable of caressing difficult passes even under the scrutiny of defensive traffic, and setting himself up with the right weight of touch before his finish. He’s wonderful at taking passes down in the air, and often strikes his shots before the defender can react. With this close control and ability under pressure, Auzmendi draws a significant amount of fouls.

Encouragingly from a scouting perspective, even though he might not be quite the same ‘Creative Link’, the Argentinean is seriously effective on the dribble. His dribble success sits at a shocking 80% within the last 365 days, beating Diaz’s by almost 17%. He’s also made himself significantly more effective in winning his offensive duels (41.7% to 23.8%), finding space to touch the ball inside the opposition’s box (4.82 to 3.33), and progressively run up the pitch (0.86 to 0.2), suggesting inclinations toward a slightly deeper starting position. That somewhat deeper starting position allows him to draw fouls, or find the right avenues for passing the ball into the penalty area (73% on PPA to Diaz’s 37.1%), and progress the ball forward (76.1% progressive passes to Diaz’s 69.4%).

He has the pace and mobility to fit into Pacific’s tenacity out of possession, and the defensive desire to fit into their pressing schemes. At Pacific he could become more refined in his approach, but he certainly has the raw intensity and work rate to stack up well in leading by example from the front.

Even if Auzmendi engages in less defensive duels than Diaz (1.81 to 3.36), he’s significantly more active in contending aerial duels (8.26 to 4.10), which would allow him to fulfill some sense of those ‘Target Man’ responsibilities within Pacific’s system. Overall, Auzmendi would not only be a bargain buy for Pacific, but an efficient forward to have in front of goal when it matters most.

ILHAN FANDI

A 19-year-old coming out of Singapore, Ihan Fandi should be on the radar of many clubs. Yet his contract expires at the end of the year, and the buzz around the young striker is practically non-existent. Never panicked in front of goal, Fandi has surpassed expectations this season to score a goal nearly every game – 0.97 goals per 90 minutes.

He’s scored goals from all kinds of positions and body parts this season, and frequently acts as an inevitable target of progressive passes for Albirex Niigata FC. Transfermarkt has him listed at just €75k, which seems wild for a man boasting an xG of 0.69 per 90.

Often playing off the shoulders of opposition defenders, Fandi makes himself difficult to get a hold of, before blasting the ball into the back of the net with pace and power.

At 6’0, he’s more of a ‘Target Man’ in his approach than Diaz, but is more than just a scorer of great headed goals. Fandi has a bit of flair and pizzazz to his game, including assisting goals with his backheel, and holding up the ball against several defenders at once before dancing his way out of trouble. In the trade-off of having a striker slightly less capable in linking with his mates, Pacific would be securing the services of a man who is absolutely clinical in scoring goals, and significantly better in the air than anyone they’ve had up top since Terran Campbell. Six headed goals this season speaks for itself, as does his 51% aerial duel win rate as a centre-forward. So while it’s less like-for-like than some of other options (he’d actually be perfect for a club like Forge), Fandi would be another bargain buy capable of holding his own in the CPL.

MOSES DYER

Luring a striker away from a CPL rival could be a difficult task, but Pacific should not only look abroad in their pursuit of a Diaz replacement. Moses Dyer is the most like-for-like in his approach of being halfway between a ‘9’ and ’10’, and acts as an incredibly versatile player for Phillip Dos Santos’ Valour. He’s cool as a cucumber under pressure, strong enough to hold off just about any CPL defender, and incredibly dynamic in running onto long passes, and connecting with his teammates anywhere on the field. Formidable in front of goal, Dyer put up a decent tally of 9 goals with 2 assists in 21 matches in 2022. His heatmap nicely covers the width of the field, as someone always on the move to aid the situation.

25-years-old with a contract set to be up for debate in December 2022, Dyer would make for a natural Diaz replacement in every sense of the word, and perhaps even help Pacific to up their pressing game.

Highly combative and tenacious, Dyer won 1.3 tackles per 90 this season, nearly 60% of his defensive duels, and always exhibited an aggressive mentality in pressing from the front. Sometimes that manifested in over-aggression as he conceded fouls or allowed ball-carrying defenders to blow by him, but it also reaped rewards in helping make Valour one of the strongest pressing teams in the league.

From a goal-scoring perspective, Dyer also impressed with the variety of his finishing, scoring 2 goals with his left, 2 with his head, and the rest with his right. He’s decent in getting across his marker to finish off the chance, strong in the air, and physically capable of handling any 1v1 battle. All of these assets culminated in an xG per 90 of 0.46 in 2022, which could grow under the creativity in place at Pacific. If Valour are unable to extend Dyer’s contract at the end of the year, Pacific should prepare to pounce on the striker.

Matheus Moresche

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Somwhere halfway between ‘9’ and ’10’, Matheus Moresche is your typical Joao Morelli-type, currently plying his trade for the Central Coast Mariners in New Zealand’s A-League. The 24-year-old has a combined goal + assist xG of 0.73 per 90 in the past 365 days, and has impressed in front of goal even despite a slight underperformance in goal output. Not only is he dynamic on the dribble, but he’s a smart finisher in the final third, and coolly handles pressurized situations.

A capable creator in the final third, Moresche surpasses Diaz’s key-passing and PPA numbers, in addition to positively involving himself in the Mariners attack (4.0 successful attacking actions per 90). His goal conversion could improve to meet the heights of Diaz, but he’s a more dynamic dribbler, and a significant speedster in behind.

He’d be more than capable of playing in that creative role as the likes of Heard race in behind, having completed 84% of his progressive passes in 2022.

He also boasts positive numbers in defense, including winning 63% if his defensive duels in the past calendar year, and giving away the fewest fouls of our cohort. It’s true that his goal contribution isn’t quite as remarkable as Wero Diaz’s, but he has all the makings of a player that could tear it up in the CPL. He’s bounced around and never found a perfect home since moving away from Brazil, but the 5’11 striker could make a new home for himself should Pacific take a punt on him.

CONCLUSION

Replacing Alejandro Diaz is not going to be an easy task this off-season for James Merriman and co. at Pacific, but it will be an essential one as they get back on track toward a title charge. It will be rare to find a player who has all of his incredible characteristics wrapped up in one big bundle, and they may have to settle for a striker who checks some of the boxes but not all. Dyer and Moresche for example are both incredibly dynamic and creative in linking up with teammates, but not as clinical in front of goal. Fandi and Auzmendi can match the Mexican’s extraordinary tallies in front of goal, but would be outside of the box picks and in need of convincing. If Merriman now loses someone like Marco Bustos or Manny Aparicio, he will then have all the more work to do in this off-season in repairing his squad for that title charge. Pacific must act fast in the transfer market in helping to convince their stars to stay, and replacing Diaz with a dynamic scorer of great goals has to be the first item on the agenda.


So there it is! Our attempt at helping James Merriman and Pacific identify cheap options across the market worthy of attention in pursuit of an Alejandro Diaz replacement. Be sure to check out more of our CANPL content, Scouting & Recruitment pieces, and don’t forget to follow on social media @desmondrhys and @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon! 👊⚽

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