Since signing his first professional soccer contract in early 2020, Turlock native Hayden Sargis has made a name for himself as a member of Sacramento Republic FC. Now, the 19-year-old is fighting through injury to continue that success as he returns to the pitch this weekend.
Sargis picked up a soccer ball almost as soon as he could walk, starting at age four and advancing as far as the Olympic Development Program and the East Valley FC Earthquakes by age 13. Sargis became a member of the Republic FC Academy system at its inception in 2015 and became known as a reliable defender, notching 109 appearances, 92 starts and three goals in U.S. Development Academy action.
His prowess on the pitch earned Sargis his first-ever contract, which he signed with Republic FC prior to the 2020 USL Championship season and viewed as a lifelong goal finally attained. Although currently playing as a USL team, Republic FC will make the move to MLS come 2022.
“That was a great honor for my family and for me, and I was just happy to take the next step in my career,” Sargis said. “After that, to be able to have such an impact for the team during the season was incredible and just shows what I’m going to be able to do.”
All of Sargis’ hard work over the years culminated into a USL rookie season which saw him finish as a finalist for the Young Player of the Year award. Though Sargis said the speed of professional soccer was much more intense than he was used to at first, he didn’t take long to catch up.
The young centerback played in all but one regular season game for Republic FC and led the team in minutes (1,236), completed passes (772) and clearances (46). He was part of a defensive unit that conceded the third fewest goals in the Western Conference prior to postseason play and ultimately helped the squad make its seventh-straight trip to the playoffs.
“I was so happy that my hard work in the offseason, in training and during the games had kind of paid off,” Sargis said. “But I didn't win Young Player of the Year, which also shows that there’s always more work to be done.”
The 2021 season has been a more difficult ride for Sargis, who started the season battling an ankle bruise and had his comeback cut short after battling hamstring issues for the past seven weeks. He hopes to be in the lineup Saturday night, when Republic FC takes on Tacoma Defiance at home.
“I think it's more of a mental battle than anything else...It's just something that I have to go through and continue to focus on the little details in rehab to get back,” Sargis said. “The team is in a tough spot for playoffs right now, so I want to come back and help the team, which is very doable. I want to help the team push for playoffs.”
Republic FC head coach Mark Briggs told USLChampionship.com that it’s rare for a young player to shoot straight to the top of their performance peak without some valleys.
“...A lot of the times the development pathway is peaks and valleys, sometimes it’s highs and then it’s lows, back up again and back down,” Briggs said. “With Hayden it’s about trying to manage those drops, so when he’s at a high trying to manage those drops so he doesn’t go too low and trying to help him get a consistent level of performances.”
Sargis has made just 11 appearances and 10 starts so far this season, but is eager to make an impact upon returning. Republic FC is looking to be one of the top four teams from their division to advance to playoffs with just seven matches left.
While Sargis knows his career is just beginning, support from his family and from Turlock is more than he ever could have imagined. Coming from a home in the Central Valley rich with soccer development and full of kids with the same dreams he once had and has now achieved, he offered some words of advice.
“As cliche as it sounds, you have to work hard, you have to do stuff when nobody's watching and you have to keep going even when you feel like you can't. Don't cheat yourself, because in the long run it'll catch up to you,” Sargis said. “So go out and train by yourself, stay after training to train longer and show up to training early. Always do the most and the best that you can do.”