On October 29, New York Red Bulls II announced that the club exercised the options of five players for the 2016 USL season: Stefano Bonomo, Devon Williams, Dan Metzger, Konrad Plewa and Rafael Diaz. This week, we’ll examine Rafael Diaz and his 2015 season.
Announced as a member of New York Red Bulls II on March 27, 2015, Rafael Diaz was first introduced to the Red Bulls organization in January 2015. Following his first professional season with then USL PRO side Orlando City in 2014, Diaz joined the New York Red Bulls First Team during preseason.
“He’s very athletic, good shot stopper, good manager of the game, decent feet and he’s a guy that I was looking at as a local guy to bring into the team when he entered the draft a couple years ago,” Head Coach John Wolyniec said in an interview during the season. “Obviously he’s bounced around a little bit and luckily we were able to bring him in and he’s been great.”
While training with the team in Florida, Wolyniec gave him a heads up at the end of preseason that they were considering signing him to Red Bulls II.
“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,” Diaz said in an interview earlier this season. “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. It was cool that I was going to be in the same family.”
Once Red Bulls II kicked off its inaugural USL season, Diaz served primarily as Santiago Castano’s backup. He saw his first action of the season in the final minutes of a game against Wilmington Hammerheads on April 12 when Castano was issued a red card. He started his first match of the season the following week versus Charleston Battery and allowed only one goal on a shot that took a deflection. He made two saves en route to a draw, 1-1.
Diaz made his second start on June 13 against Wilmington, earning a clean sheet and making two saves in a 1-0 victory. A few weeks after making a substitute appearance for Kyle Reynish, Diaz saw his third start on the road against Charlotte Independence. He made a season-high four saves to preserve an important point in a 2-2 draw.
Finally, the goalkeeper started his fourth and final match of the season in Red Bulls II’s final match against Rochester Rhinos in which he made four saves. Despite his efforts, New York fell to the 2015 Regular Season Champions, 3-2.
“He’s a very hard worker, very competitive; that’s been a great asset for training,” Wolyniec said. “Even if he doesn’t play a lot of games he brings a great attitude to training. That part about Rafa I love.”
Diaz finished the season with a 1.65 goals allowed average and one shutout. He made 14 saves in six total games played and allowed just seven goals.