After a big night of action, the playoff picture has become a little clearer in both conferences. But among all of Wednesday’s talking points, the key contributions from two young standouts to their club’s success is part of a larger trend across the Championship. Here’s your Morning Tea for Thursday.
You’re 18 years old, and with your side needing victory your coach summons you to the sideline, giving you a chance to go and make something happen.
What do you do?
Well, if you’re Sacramento Republic FC’s Julian Chavez and Mario Penegos, all you do is each score your first professional goals nine minutes apart from one another, with the latter goal bringing down the curtain on an incredible ending to a 2-1 victory against the Portland Timbers 2 on Wednesday afternoon.
And then, you go celebrate.
“It's amazing for them, amazing for their development,” said Republic FC Head Coach Mark Briggs after Wednesday afternoon’s game. “We needed something in the moment. We needed something special and both of our Academy players stepped up and provided something special for the team.”
It’s not uncommon now to see players like Penegos – who earlier this year signed professional terms with Republic FC – and Chavez – who is currently on a USL Academy contract – competing for independent Championship clubs. The change in attitude that has taken place over recent years that has seen coaches trust the youngsters in their charge to stand up to the challenge before them has been a very welcome development.
Even now, you’re seeing players like former USL Academy signing Josh Penn sign professionally with Indy Eleven, or those like Jonathan Gomez elect to turn professional with Louisville City FC. Add to that the number of USL Academy and professional signings that are competing for clubs across the board this season and there's a movement saying, “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
That’s the way it’s been for a while in Sacramento. The club quickly incorporated its own Academy program after it was founded and has been looking to offer opportunities to players coming through the ranks as often as it can while still pursuing the silverware Republic FC and its fans crave. You can see an even greater focus on that this season after Briggs’ promotion from being the club’s Academy Director to taking over as the First Team Head Coach. He knows what he’s got in players like Hayden Sargis, with the 18-year-old having played every game this season on the back line.
Briggs has handed opportunities to four players aged 18 and under with each making multiple appearances so far this season, including 16-year-old Rafael Jauregi, the youngest of the current crop. On Wednesday, Sargis was once again solid at the back, and when they got their chances as substitutes in the final 10 minutes both Penegos and Chavez rose to the moment for a game neither will ever forget.
“That's just rewarding for everyone in general, so I'm over the moon for Mario and Juju,” said Briggs. “They deserve to be rewarded for the goals they've scored and giving them time in crucial moments shows the trust we have in them.”
With the first big moment of their careers now written, we wait with anticipation to see what’s next for both.
"I don't have a problem being held to a high standard."— Phoenix Rising FC | Rising Together But Separate (@PHXRisingFC) September 2, 2020
— Head coach @RickSchantz1 discusses the high expectations for the club and why he embraces the culture.#RisingTogetherButSeparate | #OwnThe* pic.twitter.com/eVD9mnBjwC
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