Q&A: Sacramento Republic FC Defender Hayden Sargis
Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition we spoke with Sacramento Republic FC defender Hayden Sargis. After playing for the East Valley Earthquakes as a youth player and participating in NorCal’s Player Development Program for four years, Sargis signed with the Republic Academy at the age of 13. The Turlock native signed a first team contract this year and made his professional debut in Sacramento’s opening game of the USL Championship season, a 1-1 draw against FC Tulsa. Since then, the 18-year-old has appeared in every game for the Republic this year and ranks second on the team in minutes.
NorCal: What did you learn from PDP, was it a valuable experience for you?
Sargis: Yeah, definitely. I was playing with my club team at the time, playing with them and then going to PDP, where there were a lot of high-level players, and then bringing what I learned back to my club team.
NorCal: Do you think PDP helped prepare you for life in the academy and now as a professional?
Sargis: Yeah, I definitely think it was something new to me at that moment and it helped me shift into the academy when I joined it. Every PDP training that I went to was intense and at a high level.
NorCal: You were playing in the academy just last year but now you’ve been a regular in the Republic first team this year. How has the adjustment been for you from the youth game to the pro game?
Sargis: It’s been great. It’s my goal to be a professional soccer player so to make that transition and do it so smoothly, I think it’s been great. I’ve been really excited and grateful that Sacramento is giving me these opportunities and I’m going to continue to work hard to help this team and to continue to play.
NorCal: That being said, what challenges have you faced in making this adjustment?
Sargis: Obviously the size is different, the size from academy to the first team, the speed of play. You gotta know where you’re going with the ball before you even get it at the first team level.
NorCal: What are you still trying to improve in your game in order to raise its level?
Sargis: I think right now a big thing that I’ve been working on after trainings in trying to get better is my aerial game. I want to get a little bit better with my defensive headers and potentially get a goal off of a set piece.
NorCal: This year has been a very strange year with COVID-19. You made your professional debut in the last game before COVID-19 hit and then basically had three months between games. What was that experience like?
Sargis: It was honestly a crazy moment because right off of my debut I was super happy, the team morale was high, and then the week after everything got shut down. You’re hoping it’s not going to be for a long time, then you find out that you won’t be playing in games or going to team trainings for what turned out to be three or four months. It was definitely upsetting, but during that period of time our strength and conditioning coach kept us busy, we did a lot of Zoom workouts with the team, a lot of work with the ball, we were busy most of the time.
NorCal: So what did you do by yourself during that time off to make sure you didn’t lose ground to anyone else in the USL or on the Republic?
Sargis: I went out a lot with my dad. Even though everything was shut down, I think there’s always a way that you can get trainings in, so I went with my dad almost every day. We would go train, do as much as we could with just two people. There were points where my mom even came out and helped. Off the field, I’d watch as much soccer as I could, old games, just stuff I could get better at, or players I look up to.
NorCal: Who are some of those older players who you look up to?
Sargis: When I was a kid at the PDP level and younger than I am right now, Messi was definitely my idol. He was doing great things, he was just a baller. It was exciting to watch him. In PDP I was a midfielder, so Messi as an offensive player, was perfect to look up to. But as I started to move back on the field to center back, Sergio Ramos was one of the first center backs I looked up to. He’s still a great player and I still enjoy watching him, but van Dijk is my guy now. He’s got the hair, he’s the guy right now that I like a lot.
NorCal: How did you end up moving from a midfielder to the backline?
Sargis: The first year at the academy, I played the 6 and even the 8 at times, but after that I don’t know. I just went and played center back at one point and played well and ever since that, I’ve stuck to that.
NorCal: A lot of the praise you’ve gotten this year has been with your ability to play the ball out of the back as a center back. Do you think growing up as a midfielder has helped you to become so good with the ball at your feet?
Sargis: I’d say so. Just knowing what I’m going to do with the ball before I even get it gives me a huge advantage of seeing the field. Like you said, with my distribution, I have a good connection with the ball.
NorCal: What are your goals for your career?
Sargis: For my career, win a championship at some point. It would be great to win it this year and do well in the playoffs. But I also want to represent my national team at some level, hopefully the men’s full team one day. Eventually I want to go to Europe, I want to play at the highest level possible and then maybe in the Champions League, World Cup, that would be great.
NorCal: This past weekend, two of your fellow PDP and academy alums in Mario Penagos and Julian Chavez both scored their first professional goals in a 2-1 victory over Portland Timbers 2. What is it like playing with those two guys and breaking into the first team at the same time as them?
Sargis: Mario and Juju, they were always in Region 6 in PDP and I was in Region 8 and it was always when we played them that we had to watch out for them. Even at the club level, I remember playing against Mario at Sac United at the Granite Fields. Just incredible memories playing against them. And then when he joined the academy with me in our first year, we kind of bonded and became close. Juju came later, I think a year later. Mario and I got to the first team around the same time, but to be able to grow up together and now we’re playing games together on the same field at the pro level is amazing. To top it off with this week with them scoring their first professional goals…I was so excited for them. I don’t even want to know how excited they were and their families. For them to come in and make an impact like that to help us win the game is so exciting. I was so proud of them.