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Does Mariano have a shot at the first team?

Has Real Madrid’s third-string striker earned his spot?

Deportivo de La Coruna v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

During their 2016/17 La Liga reign, Real Madrid had no shortage of goals from their star strikers Alvaro Morata and Karim Benzema. Together, the Frenchman and Spaniard combined for an impressive 39 goals in all competitions. With their emphatic scoring season, one Real Madrid striker was overshadowed by the pure dominance of Benzema and Morata.

Who is that?

It’s Madrid’s third and most unrecognized forward Mariano Diaz Mejia – or Mariano, for short.

A star with Castilla, Mariano was handed a first team opportunity by head coach Zinedine Zidane at the start of the 2016/17 La Liga season. Given the opportunity to play as the club’s second striker due to a then Karim Benzema injury in late August, the Dominican International made his senior debut for Los Blancos in a 2-1 win against Celta Vigo. Mariano entered the match in the 77th minute. The 23-year-old forward would continue with his excellent debut year by scoring his first goal in Madrid’s Copa del Rey win against Cultural y Deportivo Leonesa. With his first goal for the first team, Mariano became the first Dominican International to score in a Real Madrid shirt. In the immediate second leg, Mariano added a hat-trick in a 6-1 victory against his lower division Spanish opponent.

The Premia de Mar native and Dominican Republic international scored his first top flight goal on December 10, 2016. Mariano’s accolade’s continued as he was handed a spot on Madrid’s 2016 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, which, as usual, the European team won. Collectively, Mariano made 14 appearances for Los Blancos this season in all competitions, scoring five goals and providing two assists.

To fully understand Madrid’s newest rising star, fans should look to his past. Born in Premia de Mar, Spain, to a Dominican mother, Mariano was handed an opportunity to join Espanyol’s youth setup. The striker would spend four years with Espanyol before jumping between Premia, Sanchez Libre, and Badalona before eventually joining Madrid’s world renowned academy in the 2011/12 La Liga season. Immediately, Mariano was sent to Madrid’s third team, Real Madrid C. He would quickly become a regular during his second season, scoring 15 goals in 26 games. Collectively, Mariano combined for 18 goals in 46 games with the team, earning himself a promotion to Castilla.

Upon joining Castilla, Mariano served as a backup for De Tomas, another upcoming Madrid youth product. Much like with Real Madrid C, the Dominican Republic International filled up the stat sheet. Scoring an impressive 32 goals in 44 games, Mariano turned heads with his impressive stat-line, which ultimately led to his inevitable promotion to the first team.

Internationally, Mariano’s career is a mixed bag. Although he is a native of Spain, Mariano took a different direction with international play. Eligible to play for the Dominican Republic through his mother, the Madrid striker made his first and only appearance in 2013 for his mother’s homeland in a friendly against Haiti. In the match, Mariano scored the last goal in his country’s 3-1 win. Following the match, he would retire from the national team in order to focus on Real Madrid and also avoid being cap-tied by the Dominican Republic in hopes of potentially representing Spain in the future.

Mariano is tipped for a bright future under Zidane. After blowing away the competition with Real’s second and third teams, it is about time to see him dominate in the top tier. As Benzema ages and Morata transfer rumors flourish, Mariano could be Madrid’s next huge star at the striker position.

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