A week ago, Tacoma Defiance and San Diego Loyal were preparing for their second game of the USL Championship season amidst a ramping-up of preparations to combat the spread of COVID-19. San Deigo Loyal had already traveled to Tacoma for the game, so the two teams and the league decided that the best path forward was to play the game behind closed doors rather than cancel or postpone the game, as playing in front of a crowd wasn’t an option under the new CDC guidelines. The game was weird, and has only become weirder in hindsight as it wound up being the last professional outdoor soccer game played in the United States.
Tacoma made a handful of changes from their opening day starting XI, incorporating Danny Leyva, who signed a 2020 Standard USL Loan Agreement the day before, along with fellow first team players Justin Dhillon and Alex Roldan. Roldan’s involvement would be short-lived, unfortunately, as he had to come off injured in the 36th minute. The substitution was a second consecutive hit to the Defiance team who had given up the opening goal five minutes earlier as Francis Atuahene beat Taylor Mueller to get on the end of a Collin Martin free kick in the 31st minute.
In spite of giving up the lead, the game had been pretty even with neither team looking especially sharp, but Tacoma had realistically had the higher quality chances. San Diego had four shots to Tacoma’s three in the first half, and three of their shots were “on target” versus Tacoma’s one shot on target in the first half — a shot from outside the box from Justin Dhillon in the final minutes of the half — but Tacoma limited San Diego to shots from outside the box excepting the shot that resulted in their goal.
Tacoma equalized in the 55th minute when Mueller released Shandon Hopeau down the right channel. Hopeau’s run already had him beyond his defender, so as he dribbled into the box he was able to pick out Dhillon near the penalty spot. Dhillon cleverly redirected the pass into the net for a lovely goal.
Both teams created chances throughout the second half, with Tacoma looking likely to come away with at least a draw as they took seven shots from inside the San Diego box. But after a couple of near misses San Diego put themselves on top again in the 85th minute. Seemingly out of nowhere Loyal got out on a break after Mueller failed to win a tackle just inside the Defiance half and Elijah Martin hit a quick diagonal ball which put Jack Metcalf into space as the Defiance backline were all caught in advanced positions. Metcalf played a ball towards the penalty spot where Atuahene once again met it ahead of a recovering Mueller to score and secure San Deigo Loyal’s first-ever USL Championship win.
Tacoma put up a good fight to get a point out of the game, as they put on pressure and took four shots in the final minutes following the goal, but they ultimately came to nothing.
4’ — Shandon Hopeau finds Azriel Gonzalez in the center of the box, but Gonzalez’s header misses high and wide.
13’ — Josh Atencio earns a free kick; Danny Leyva’s service eventually finds Atencio in the center of the box, but his shot goes over the bar.
19’ — Alex Roldan takes a knock and draws a foul as Francis Atuahene runs through him as he tries to run down a loose ball that Roldan clears.
27’ — Nice interplay between Josh Atencio and Danny Reynolds plays Azriel Gonzalez into space down the left wing. His cross goes all the way through the box, and Alex Roldan puts a ball into the box that San Diego puts out for a corner.
31’ — Following a foul by Abdoulaye Cissoko, Collin Martin’s service into the box finds Francis Atuahene, who finishes past Trey Muse. 0-1.
36’ — Alex Roldan calls for a substitution and is replaced by Antonee Burke.
38’ — Taylor Mueller pulls down Yair Jaen at the top of the box and draws the first yellow card of the game.
43’ — Justin Dhillon runs down a clearance and beats a couple of defenders as he drives into the box, but his cutback through the penalty area isn’t able to be controlled by Shandon Hopeau or Danny Robles.
56’ — Taylor Mueller hits a diagonal ball to Shandon Hopeau on the right wing who dribbles into the box and plays a pass towards the penalty spot for Justin Dhillon who calmly redirects the ball with the inside of his right foot for the equalizing goal. 1-1.
56’ — Grant Stoneman earns the first yellow card of the game for Sand Diego as he’s cautioned for dissent following Dhillon’s goal.
59’ — A nice sequence of build-up play that starts with a diagonal ball from Danny Leyva to Danny Reynolds leads to a corner after Reynolds finds Hopeau at the far post with a cross, and Hopeau’s shot draws a save from the San Diego ‘keeper.
69’ — Tacoma make their second change as Danny Robles makes way for Chino Peréz.
75’ — Danny Leyva collects a clearance and turns under pressure inside his own half, then plays Justin Dhillon into space on the right side. Dhillon creates separation from his defender, cuts inside, and shoots well wide from outside the box.
76’ — A quick play by San Diego leads to a ball into Qudus Lawal in the box, but a timely interception by Danny Leyva ends the danger.
79’ — Trey Muse steps out to grab a ball played into the box, but Atuahene beats him to the ball and puts his shot past him. Antonee Burke clears the shot off the line.
84’ — Tacoma make their final change as Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez replaces Azriel Gonzalez.
85’ — The Defiance defense gets caught pushed up as a quick switch and cross into the box by San Deigo leads to a second goal for Francis Atuahene out of almost nothing. 1-2.
The Three Dannys: Tacoma’s XI against San Diego Loyal featured three players named Danny. This is mostly just a fun trivia tidbit, but all three Dannys are likely to be key contributors if Tacoma do end up playing any more of the 2020 season. Leyva and Reynolds both had solid games. Reynolds helped create plenty of danger with his crosses and set-piece service and Leyva helped to cut out some promising attacks from San Diego while also relieving pressure with smart and dangerous passing to start counter attacks. Danny Robles had a quiet night, but his hard work as the No. 10 allowed the players around him greater freedom to get into dangerous positions. Even if it wasn’t the greatest game from any of the three, their performances showed what they can be capable of going forward.
The veteran’s mixed evening: Mueller will carry a fair amount of responsibility for both of San Diego Loyal’s goals. On the opening goal it’s not clear if there was miscommunication or a misunderstanding regarding who was marking who, but in the end Mueller was the one who trailed Francis Atuahene as he ran onto Collin Martin’s service, never managing to gain position or put Atuahene off enough to make the shot more difficult. On the second goal Mueller pushed up almost to midfield on the right sideline to challenge for a ball. That challenge leads to a loose ball and a switch from San Diego, which caught the Defiance back line pushed up with Mueller. His recovery run was a good one, but once again it’s not enough to challenge Atuahene or prevent him from scoring. Mueller’s passing, both short and long, continues to be a plus, but in a young defense he’s being depended on as both a physical, hard to beat defender, and as a leader. Giving up two goals like that is tough, but how he responds to a game like that will be an important part of his role in the team.
An uncertain future: This game took place amidst increasing understanding of the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, as city and state leaders issued warnings and stepped up preparations to stem the spread of the virus. The game was played behind closed doors, and would prove to be the final professional outdoor soccer game to be played in the US. A week later as cities like San Francisco and New York City go into or seem to be preparing for city-wide lock-downs and folks are preparing to spend the coming weeks at least in their homes, this game may go down in history for reasons entirely unrelated to what happened on the field. It’s uncertain when we’ll get to see the men of Tacoma Defiance take the field again, so in the meantime I’m going to hold onto the positives from this game: Justin Dhillon did what he does, score goals; Danny Reynolds has an incredible left foot, and while his set piece service hasn’t yielded anything yet, he’s certain to keep getting better as he settles into the team; the youngest man on the field, Danny Leyva, looked much like the best version of himself that we saw last season as his positioning and work rate made the midfield tough to move through for San Diego, and his passing made life easier for the players around him. There’s more to be hopeful about than not with this team, that’s the entire idea behind a team that’s part of an organization’s development system. The results aren’t there yet, but they will be, or at least we can hope they will. The alternative is an option, but what kind of an option is it really? Defeatism, bordering on nihilism, defeats the purpose of fandom, and it defeats the purpose of being alive. Bad things happen, that’s not a surprise to anyone reading this, but how you respond to those things is what matters. You can let those things crush you, or you can appreciate the sunlight streaming in your window as you sit in quarantine and fill your mind with the joyful dreams of the future ahead of you.
Tacoma Defiance I 1-2 I San Diego Loyal SC
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Venue: Cheney Stadium I Tacoma, Washington
Referee: Luis Guardia
Assistants: Cameron Siler, Corbyn May
Fourth Official: Adorae Whitesel
SDL – Francis Atuahene (Collin Martin) 31′
TAC – Justin Dhillon (Shandon Hopeau) 56′
SDL – Francis Atuahene (Jack Metcalf) 85′
TAC – Taylor Mueller (caution) 38′
SDL – Grant Stoneman (caution) 57′
SDL – Francis Atuahene (caution) 89′
SDL – Jon Kempin (caution) 90’+2′
LINEUPS & STATS
TAC – Trey Muse; Alex Roldan (Antonee Burke 36′), Abdoulaye Cissoko, Taylor Mueller, Danny Reynolds; Danny Leyva, Josh Atencio – captain; Shandon Hopeau, Danny Robles (Chino Perez 68′), Azriel Gonzalez (Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez 84′); Justin Dhillon
Substitutes not used: Jamie Lowell, Jesse Daley, Chris Hegardt, Marlon Vargas
Total shots: 12
Shots on goal: 2
SDL – Jon Kempin; Grant Stoneman, Emrah Klimenta, Elijah Martin (Charlie Adams 77′); Yair Jaen (Qudus Lawal 65′), Eric Avila, Collin Martin, Beverly Makangila, Jerome Ngom Mbekeli (Jack Metcalf 60′); Francis Atuahene, Tumi Moshobane
Substitutes not used: Jake Fenlason, Morgan Hackworth, Sal Zizzo, Ashley Nazira
Total shots: 13
Shots on goal: 8