Alberto "Beto" Navarro has one of the better stories around, as a member of Eric Wynalda's famed Cal FC squad that made a run in the U.S. Open Cup in 2012, before leveraging that into a pro career. As Wynalda maintained, his amateur squad was far more talented and pedigreed than a team at that level, and players like Navarro just needed another look in order to break into the big time.
He did just that, first joining Wynalda's Atlanta Silverbacks and then fellow NASL side FC Edmonton before returning to his native California and signing with the Orange County Blues for the 2015 season.
The center back was fourth in regular season minutes for the Blues and was one of the most consistent players in his stint with the USL side, as they completed their best-ever season under new coach Oliver Wyss. In a team with a lot of new faces, he was one of many successful signings.
Here were Navarro's statistics with the Blues:
|Games Played||Games Started||Minutes||Goals||Assists||Shots||SOG||Yellow Cards||Red Cards|
|USL Regular Season||22||22||1,926||0||0||0||0||2||0|
|U.S. Open Cup||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
What's interesting is that Navarro was very much the quiet partner alongside fellow center back Brenton Griffiths. Whereas Griffiths was making the key stop, rallying his teammates to make a play, or stepping up to score a goal himself, Navarro was a stay-at-home player, and while he was certainly effective, his composure and quiet demeanor meant he was much less likely to draw attention during games. If it's working, then no big deal, right?
I do think Wyss had a few questions with Navarro, as Romeo Filipovic was signed early in the season and slotted into the lineup instantly, although ultimately he left after a month and Navarro re-emerged as a starter. Whether Wyss simply wanted a different skillset or wasn't entirely convinced by Navarro is unclear, but things sure turned out pretty well for both sides, few can argue.
Despite the strong season Navarro had in Orange County, Wyss will be looking for a new starting CB in 2016, as Navarro has returned to the NASL, signing a deal in December with the Jacksonville Armada. The Florida team is rebuilding under new coach Tony Meola, and there's a solid chance Navarro will be able to start with his new side.
For Wyss, the task now will be to see if he can find a CB who's even better than Navarro, or if his shoes will be hard to fill. I think even if their respective demeanors made Griffiths the more "visible" CB than Navarro, Griffiths probably was the better of the two. And so if Griffiths stays, then Wyss will have less of a task to rebuild his defense. Make no mistake, however, that replacing Navarro will not be easy. The player who had to work so hard to get where he is has carved out a solid stint as a professional, and did very well in his lone season with the Blues.
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