Get To Know Rafael Diaz: How an incident on the baseball diamond shaped Rafi's soccer career

Every week, NewYorkRedBulls.com will feature a NYRB II player, and tell their story. Here is the second installment.

Rafael Diaz, goalkeeper for New York Red Bulls II, made his debut as a substitute on Sunday, April 12 versus Wilmington Hammerheads. He appeared in the final stages of the game, but is expected to start his first match for Red Bulls II against Charleston Battery on Saturday, April 18. According to Diaz, a chance to play and improve is just what he needs.

“I just want to continue working, get better and take my opportunities when I get a chance to play and give the team a chance to win games,” Diaz said. “It’s a long season so I just want to continue to progress and get better the entire season.”

Diaz has been playing soccer for most of his life. Rafael, who was born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in Paterson, N.J. As a kid he played both baseball and soccer, often racing from his baseball games to play in soccer matches. At 8-years old, an incident on the baseball diamond would change his life forever.

“One day when I was playing baseball I took a ground ball off the head…it bounced up funny off my head and after that I was never the same,” Diaz said. “I was only 8-years old and I stayed real focused on soccer and put everything into soccer after that.”

Soon, from childhood fear grew great strength.

Diaz played with his local club in Paterson, moved into the Players Development Academy and played high school soccer at Morris Hills High School. There he was a three year starter and served as team captain. As a senior, he was named New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year and NSCAA New Jersey Player of the Year. Diaz even joined the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team for a period. He received attention from college coaches and made the decision to attend St. John’s University.

“I had a great four and a half years at St. John’s,” Diaz said. “When I came in, I came in injured so I redshirted my freshman year and then played all four years. It was a good experience playing college ball and we were able to win two BIG EAST championships.”

As a redshirt freshman, he earned second team Soccer America All-Freshman honors and a BIG EAST All-Rookie selection. He followed up his first year performance finishing with a 1.03 goals against average to go with a .727 save percentage. Diaz collected more awards as a junior, receiving second team NSCAA All-Northeast Region selection and first team All-BIG EAST honors, and capped off his college career as a senior, starting all 20 matches and posting a 0.80 goals against average. He holds the school record for career shutouts, ending with 32 in total.

Soon after finishing school, Diaz signed his first professional contract with then USL PRO side Orlando City in 2014. After one season with Orlando, Diaz joined up with the New York Red Bulls First Team during preseason in January 2015.

“I learned a lot in the two weeks I was down there in Orlando and learned a lot from [Luis] Robles and the three keepers that [were] there,” Diaz said. “It was challenging of course…I asked a lot of questions, the team was really welcoming and I had a lot of fun.”

“Actually John Wolyniec gave me a heads up at the end of preseason that they were thinking of signing me into the [Red Bulls II] team and I was happy because when you’re there with the team for two weeks you become accustomed with some of the players and it was cool that I had a relationship with some of the players.”

Although he was able to meet many new players and create new friendships, it was linking up with former St. John’s teammates such as Connor Lade that made him feel at home.

“Once [John Wolyniec] told me I was going to stay in the Red Bulls family, I was happy because I started relationships with people and I didn’t want to switch teams and start all over,” Diaz said. “It was cool that I was going to be in the same family.”

Joining Red Bulls II also re-united Diaz with St. John’s teammates Jamie Thomas and Danny Bedoya which established a comfort level for him as a new player. As he explained, when you’re a new player and don’t know anybody you can tend to be hesitant or quiet, and having an already existent relationship with another player can help a new guy get to know the team. Not that Diaz is a quiet person. In fact, he’s quite the opposite.

“I’m a guy that likes to have fun, joke around, I’m always trying to make situations fun,” Diaz said. “I don’t like being alone so I’m always with people…I like to lighten the situation, I’m always having fun or poking fun and making jokes. That’s really who I am.”

Off the pitch he enjoys hanging out with friends and loves music. He listens to lots of Hip-Hop (Drake is his favorite) and R&B, and is always reciting lines. He also loves movies, getting friends together for pick-up basketball and claims to play, “a lot of FIFA.”

In his young soccer career, Diaz has won two BIG EAST championships, but his favorite moments are in the progression of his game and of himself as opposed to a particular moment in a match.

“Winning the BIG EAST championship was a great moment, but it’s the moments such as going to college and signing professional contracts that I treasure most,” Diaz said. “Achieving personal goals and knowing ‘I did it’…those are the best moments for me.”

The goalkeeper officially signed with Red Bulls II on March 27, 2015. Diaz received his first call to action against Wilmington Hammerheads and will make his first career start for NYRB II this weekend against Charleston Battery.

You can catch Rafael Diaz and the 2015 New York Red Bulls II at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. and at Baker Athletic Complex’s Rocco B. Commisso Soccer Stadium at Columbia University in Manhattan. For ticket information, visit //www.newyorkredbulls.com/2/tickets. All matches are streamed live at NewYorkRedBulls.com/Live