Sacramento Republic FC's Rafael Diaz had a strong week for the Dominican Republic as he posted a pair of shutouts in FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifying. | Photo courtesy Dominican Football Federation
Sacramento Republic FC goalkeeper Rafael Diaz had a breakout campaign in the 2020 USL Championship season, posting four shutouts and a 76.5 save percentage over his 10 regular-season appearances.
Over the past week, he produced more of the same, only this time on the international stage.
Diaz’s pair of shutouts helped the Dominican Republic pick up a pair of victories as FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifying began around Concacaf and put the country in position to be one of the six group winners that will advance to the playoffs for the final stage of qualifying later this year.
The 29-year-old, who made his debut for the Dominican Republic in January, first helped the side edge to a 1-0 victory against Dominica last Wednesday night. He then added a second clean sheet in a 6-0 win against Anguilla, making it three shutouts in a row to start his international career. The Dominican Republic ended the opening two games level on points with Panama in Group A, with the sides potentially facing a showdown for advancement in the final game of the group on June 8.
Diaz wasn’t the only current Championship or League One player to find success during this month’s international break. Also sitting with a chance to earn advancement to the next stage are the Charleston Battery’s Nico Rittmeyer and Guatemala, who took a 1-0 victory against Cuba – which included FC Tulsa’s Jorge Luis Corrales – and then a 3-0 win against the British Virgin Islands that saw Rittmeyer pick up an assist on the side’s second goal.
FC Tulsa’s Joaquin Rivas also helped his side, providing the assist on the opening goal for El Salvador as it took a 2-0 victory against Grenada in its opening game of qualifying. Grenada – featuring the Charleston Battery’s AJ Paterson and international debutant Kharlton Belmar of Sacramento Republic FC – rebounded with a 1-0 win against the U.S. Virgin Islands on Tuesday night, and with both El Salvador and Antigua & Barbuda held to draws by Monserrat during the week, the battle for top spot could come down to the final game in June.
El Paso Locomotive FC’s Mechack Jerome and Miami FC’s Christiano Francois both featured as Haiti took a 2-0 victory against Belize to open its qualifying bid, with a key game against Nicaragua to come in June. The Richmond Kickers’ Oalex Anderson, meanwhile, found the net as St. Vincent and the Grenadines earned a 3-0 win against the British Virgin Islands on Tuesday night.
The week also saw one final flourish on the international stage as goalkeeper Cody Laurendi made his final competitive appearance for Puerto Rico on Sunday night before hanging his gloves up, announcing his retirement on Monday. Laurendi and his side ended on a positive note, however, earning a 1-1 draw with Trinidad & Tobago as Hartford Athletic’s Nicolas Cardona, Memphis 901 FC’s Raul Gonzalez and the Tacoma Defiance’s Alec Diaz all featured for the hosts, who put in a strong display against the Soca Warriors.