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Tacoma Defiance youngsters shine in preseason loss to Portland

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The Sounders wound up on the wrong side of a 2-1 result, but Daniel Leyva and Marlon Vargas looked like the real deal against the Timbers

Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

Teenagers Marlon Vargas and Daniel Leyva acquitted themselves well against the Portland Timbers at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Ariz. Wednesday evening. Vargas assisted on Seattle’s lone goal of the night to Handwalla Bwana, while Leyva lasted the full 90 minutes and was solid on the ball in midfield. Both teens are signed to professional contracts with Tacoma Defiance.

No single moment stood out for Leyva, but midfield partner Harry Shipp came away impressed.

“He’s so composed,” Shipp said. “I think back to when I was 15 years old, I didn’t have opportunities to play against guys twice my age. His composure (is huge), he’ll get faster, stronger, bigger. The way he thinks through the game is something you can’t teach.”

Vargas, meanwhile, played so well that head coach Brian Schmetzer kept him on the pitch 10 minutes longer than the 45 he had initially planned for the 18-year-old.

Just before entering the match, Vargas received a word of advice from assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda.

“Before I stepped out to the field Gonzo said to me, ‘we know how much talent you have. Don’t try to put it all together in one spot,’” Vargas recalled. “Let the game come to you and it will develop.”

It showed, as Vargas played unafraid against a lineup that had just three changes from the squad Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese rolled out against Atlanta United in MLS Cup two months ago. About 30 minutes in, the youngster used a quick cut to create space against Portland’s Jorge Villafana, sending in a looping deflected cross that Bwana powered into the net for the opening goal.

Pineda praised both teenagers’ energy and courage Thursday.

“A lot of positives about how the kids performed,” Pineda said. “It was good to see their enthusiasm and their energy and of course their football. They showed that they can compete against a very good team like Portland’s first team. The kids were brilliant.”

And the execution paves the way for further first-team looks in the future for the youngsters.

“(Vargas) made the play,” Pineda said. “He made the assist. That’s what we need from the kids when they come with us.”