FRISCO - It’s never the right time to say goodbye to a club legend, but in the case of FC Dallas’ transfer of Mauro Diaz, it’s one that is doing right by a player who has taken the organization to new heights.
From speaking first-hand with those in the club, the conversation of ‘What’s next?’ between the team and Diaz has been an on-going one for several years. Just like any profession, there is always an aspiration for athletes to reach their highest earning potential, to have career goals many years down the road. After returning from a potentially career-ending injury last year, it was clear to Diaz that now was his time to act. In this case, Mauro’s next step could be very close to his last.
Dallas wasn’t keen on moving on from Diaz in the summer window, but as multiple offers came in, only one presented the midfielder with a personal opportunity that the club simply couldn’t stand in the way of. At Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai FC, several in Dallas indicate Diaz will earn a contract rarely seen in the states. The opportunity in front of the 27-year-old playmaker is one that could set him and his family up for life after soccer.
It was also clear to both sides that it was only a matter of time before the two parties would go their separate ways.
Diaz is already the highest-paid player on the Dallas roster based on MLS Player Association numbers. His FC Dallas contract was set to expire at the end of 2018, with the club holding an option to extend it through the 2019 season. In the salary-capped nature of MLS, though, holding onto the Magician - already the highest-paid player on the roster based on MLS Player Association numbers - for another year would’ve stressed the salary cap and likely force the team to part ways with other key pieces of their core. A long-term deal beyond that wasn’t likely with Diaz wanting to take on a new challenge in his career.
Both sides came into the season knowing full well that this could be the last go-round for No. 10 at FCD. Once the calendar turned to 2019, the possibility of getting a transfer return for a player in the last year of his contract all but disappears. Teams aren’t looking to invest transfer funds for a player they could sign outright in just a few months’ time. Halfway through the 2019 option year, Diaz would've been able to sign with any club he wished. In turn, FCD would not receive any compensation. If Dallas was going to get a return from the pending departure of its star midfielder, it needed to be sooner rather than later.
The most telling factor of what the club and the fans in Dallas mean to Diaz came without many knowing it just a few weeks ago. In the week leading up to the club’s home match on June 9th against Montreal, conversations with Al Shabab neared the final stage of negotiations - where typically players disappear from lineups as precautionary measures. The technical staff and Mauro’s camp sat down the night before the game and discussed what would happen the following day. It was Diaz who said he wanted to play in front of his home fans one last time - knowing full well an injury could jeopardize his future earnings overseas.
That night, unbeknownst to most at Toyota Stadium, Diaz would score his final goal as a member of FC Dallas - his 10th career PK that would set the franchise mark on one more stat during his defining career in Texas. Three days later, as front offices continued to work out the final details, we sat down with Mauro to film his emotional goodbye to the fans he loves so much.
While difficult to replace the league’s second-leading assist man at the mid-point, Dallas has been preparing for life after Mauro for some time. The most immediate heir-apparent could fall to the feet of Homegrown Paxton Pomykal, who came into the season as the main option behind Mauro in the attacking midfield. Fans have been clamoring to #FreePaxi for some time, and those around the club’s front office are just as anxious to see what the 18-year-old can do with his chance.
Young DP Santiago Mosquera has also played centrally during his early career and was brought in during the offseason as another option for Oscar Pareja across a variety of positions up front - with or without Diaz. And with the MLS transfer window opening on July 10, Dallas will continue to add to their roster with hopes of continuing their first half run in 2018.
“He’ll go down as one of the great players to play for this club. The success that he’s had here has been the sort of success of [club legends] Oscar Pareja and Jason Kreis and Bobby Rhine,” President Dan Hunt said when asked about Diaz. “We’re happy for him to have this opportunity. We're glad we were part of that step and we hope the next chapter is great and successful for him.”