Memo Diaz: Hometown Hero and NPSL Alum
Diaz’s career path serves as motivation for others
By Nick Flores/NPSL.com
Memo Diaz of the Oakland Roots SC (USL Championship) has had quite the story thus far. From playing Division 1 soccer at University of Nevada Las Vegas, playing for Midland-Odessa Sockers FC of the NPSL, joining the Laredo Heat in 2018, and then making the next step up to the USL, Diaz is an inspiration for players who are trying to climb the ranks just as he did.
During his collegiate career the then 21-year-old was offered to play with Midland in the NPSL. After a short stint in 2017 with the club he went on to join the Laredo Heat for the 2018 season where he would leave a great impression both on the pitch and within the community.
While Diaz did eventually become a Heat legend, things did not start out so smoothly for the midfielder.
“Preseason the first two games were really tough for me,” Diaz said. “I wasn’t getting much playing time in those first two games.”
Despite a slow start he was given the opportunity to start against his former club, and from there his season took off. He bagged a brace in the match against his former club, and the Heat went on to have an undefeated season which the club and community remembers very fondly.
“The 2018 season is special in the history of the Laredo Heat,” Laredo Heat SC President Shashi Vaswani said in 2021. “We really hit the ground running in our debut NPSL season on the way to earning the No. 1 overall seed in the entire league. Memo and Younes (Boudadi) were a significant part of that. They helped set the stage for what the Heat stand for in the NPSL, and they continue to serve as an inspiration for what future players can aspire toward.”
Diaz and Boudadi both played for the Heat in their inaugural undefeated season and went on to play in the USL with Boudadi currently playing for Hartford Athletic.
Both were crucial to the team’s success and were recognized in the Lone Star Conference and South Region XI. Diaz also was recognized in the NPSL’s National XI having registered five goals and six assists.
Following a great season with the Laredo Heat and finishing his collegiate playing career Diaz got the opportunity to play for El Paso Locomotive FC of the USL, his hometown club. Coming off of a great season with the Heat and finishing his last semester of college, receiving the invitation to play in the preseason from Locomotive was exciting for Diaz.
“Right after graduation I got an email from one of the coaches that I was invited to preseason so it was a fun ride home knowing that I was going to be able to join my hometown team for preseason,” Diaz said. “It was a really accomplished moment to be able to play for my hometown. I don’t know if a lot of players get to say that they play for their home team or even started their career with their hometown team.”
Diaz spent two years with the club in what was a great learning experience for him. As a player who is making the next step in your career you want to try and take in as much as you can in order to adapt to the new level of play. The jump from college to the NPSL and then the USL can be challenging given the speed of the game is different, the array of talent is larger and overall, there is more expected of you as a player.
“That first year was just a learning experience,” Diaz said. “Learning from the coach and from the guys around me so my second year I was starting to make an impact and a name for myself. Those two years in El Paso were definitely a lot of learning that really helped me in getting to Oakland.”
Diaz made his move to Oakland in the beginning of 2021, and this move was very big for him. Moving from Texas to California is a grand decision for anyone, and Diaz credits the support he had from his wife for the move.
“It was huge,” Diaz said. “I credit a lot to my wife. She had a job for three years, and she just got her bags, and she was like ‘we’re going to the Bay Area. A lot of credit to her, she’s been there for me and has been pushing me, and we love the Bay Area.”
Having settled into Oakland nicely Diaz was able to focus on his football and the Roots were able to make it to the semi-finals of the playoffs in his first season though it was a “bumpy road.”
“It was a bumpy road with COVID and with field problems but I think in the end that’s what made the team a little bit stronger,” Diaz said. “I think we did a pretty good job last season putting all that together and leaving the bad things in the back.”
This season Oakland currently sits in ninth at the time of writing on 25 points as they are pushing for a playoff position. With a new coach in Juan Guerra, new players and a new system being implemented, the team is adapting well in their new circumstances. With the new system in place Diaz has also been adapting to his new role as a wing-back.
“It’s definitely a new role for me as a wingback instead of a fullback,” Diaz said. “I’m able to learn from other players, right now I’m learning from the other outside back who’s more of a natural wingback. Results will end up coming but I think we’ve been doing pretty well so far.”
Diaz has played all over the pitch throughout the years. As a child he spent most of the time in midfield, in his high school days he played as a forward and he then moved out to the wing as he got older during his time in college and the NPSL. Now at the professional level Diaz has spent his time playing at right back and wingback as mentioned.
While Diaz is still adapting to this new role, he feels his experience playing in other positions gives him an edge in his development as a wing-back.
“I kept little things from when I was a winger and the (adaptation to) the speed of play will come with time,” Diaz said. “I’m looking forward to it and seeing what I can really impact this season.”
With a long season still ahead, there is plenty of time for Diaz to make this new role his own and thrive in it just as he has in the past.
When thinking about the path Diaz took to get to where he’s at now it’s hard to overlook the impact that he’s had on communities and their youth. He was a crucial piece to the Laredo Heat’s 2018 squad and the community still holds him in very high regard to this day.
“Memo will always be a highly-valued member of the Heat family, and it has been outstanding watching him develop into a great professional player,” Heat president Shashi Vaswani said. “He is a perfect example of one of our organization’s main goals which is to find great athletes who are even greater people off the pitch and help them develop on their way to professional careers. Memo has worked hard and deserves all the success he has achieved, and it will be exciting to continue watching his career unfold.”
Diaz enjoys speaking to the youth about his story and feels honored to be looked up to by not only younger athletes but people his age as well.
“I like talking to kids, I like talking to the community, and I’ve heard from even friends of mine who are my age, ‘you really inspire me’ and they’re not even playing soccer they’re just doing their own thing at work,” Diaz said. “It means a lot that I’m able to do that. I’m just having fun out there and training, like, that’s my job and being able to inspire kids and friends it’s really emotional.”
The opportunity to go back to his former clubs and speak about his journey is something that’s crossed the 26-year-olds mind as he hopes he can go back to those communities and share what he’s learned throughout his career.
“I do sometimes sit and really hope I can go back to those towns and tell my story, simply tell my story and be able to tell them how I did it,” Diaz said. “Obviously I’d love to help in any way, to try and help let’s say a kid from Laredo Heat to try and follow my steps.”
The steps that Diaz took to becoming a professional footballer have served as inspiration for those who have followed his career to now. He’s hailed as a hometown hero in El Paso and is a Laredo legend given the inspiration he’s sparked within those communities and he still has a lot to give.
Diaz has come a long way from where he began and people will continue to look to him as motivation for years to come.
Photo Credit: Oakland Roots SC and Laredo Heat SC