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Tacoma Defiance sign Academy fullback Alex Villanueva

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Tacoma add to their fullback depth while also gaining attacking talent with Villanueva’s signing.

Josh Lavallee // Sounders FC Digital

Ahead of Wednesday night’s game against Las Vegas Lights FC, Tacoma Defiance announced that Alex Villanueva has signed a USL contract with the team. Villanueva, 18, has been with the Seattle Sounders Academy since the 2018-19 Development Academy season, and spent time with Real Salt Lake’s residency academy prior to that.

At the academy level Villanueva started as a promising winger, but as he advanced to higher levels he has transitioned back a line to play as an attacking fullback. During the 2019 season he made five appearances for Tacoma — four starts and one 60-minute substitute appearance — as a fullback. One appearance, a start against Reno 1868 FC, came as a right back, while the other four all saw him playing on the left side of the Defiance defense. In a 1-1 draw against New Mexico United Villanueva even added an assist on the team’s lone goal to cap off a 90 minute performance.

With Tacoma in 2020, the path to minutes at left back is a narrow one as he’ll be playing behind Nick Hinds and Danny Reynolds, both of whom have started and offer plenty on both sides of the ball from the left back spot. Right back could be a more direct route to minutes for Villanueva this season, even if he’s seen less time there in the past. Antonee Burke is the only other player on Tacoma’s roster whose primary position is right back, and when he’s not been available the team has had to play centerback Abdoulaye Cissoko out of position there, or move Sota Kitahara out of his place in the center of midfield, where he’s started each game since the restart. Being able to play Villanueva there would allow coach Chris Little to play other players in their preferred roles.

Signing Villanueva is a continuation of Tacoma’s place in the talent development pipeline that the Seattle Sounders organization under Garth Lagerwey envisioned. Villanueva, who played a major role in the Sounders U-17 team that made history in 2019 by becoming the first MLS academy to win the Generation Adidas Cup Champions Division, is the 13th player to sign directly to Tacoma from the Academy since Lagerwey became General Manager and President of Soccer. That number doesn’t include Ethan Dobbelaere, who signed directly to the First Team after playing with Tacoma on an amateur contract, and the number seems likely to grow in the near future with players like Chris Hegardt and Sota Kitahara continue to play significant roles. Beyond his participation with the Academy and Tacoma, Villanueva has also spent time training with the Sounders First Team — most notably during the 2020 preseason — and earned time with US Youth National Teams.