Tacoma Defiance came into their game on Saturday night against Reno 1868 FC, a team they’d never beaten before, with a chance to move into first place in Group A with a win, and a chance to at least solidify their chances at a trip to the playoffs with a draw. Instead, on an evening where their finishing let them down, two mistakes from goalkeeper Christian Herrera undid the good work that he and the rest of the team had done.
Defiance, now with 7 points through 6 games, started the game well. Through the first 20 minutes they had won a few free kicks in dangerous positions, and gotten off a handful of shots that Reno’s goalkeeper Eric De La Cerda managed to keep out of the back of the net. Tacoma’s ‘keeper, Christian Herrera, had made a couple of good saves as well, but in the 20th minute he wasn’t able to make contact when he came out to punch a ball away, and Taylor Mueller’s headed clearance didn’t leave the box. That clearance fell to Benjamin Kinkanovic who created space for himself to get his shot off with a lovely bit of skill, then buried his chance to put the home team up 1-0.
That lead only lasted for a few minutes until Danny Robles, faced with defenders who backed off as he dribbled toward the goal, took the opportunity to calmly slot the ball home from the left side of goal. The solid play from Tacoma continued until Herrera was called for a foul in the box and Reno were given a penalty.
Corey Hertzog’s shot was nearly saved by Herrera, but the bounce found its way home in the 32nd minute to put Reno back in front 2-1. Following the penalty and the hydration break that came after, Tacoma struggled to find any rhythm during the remainder of the first half, but still didn’t give up much in the way of dangerous chances for Reno.
The second half saw plenty of scoring chances for both teams, the best of which was a saved penalty from Alec Diaz in the 63rd minute that had been earned by a great run from Nick Hinds. Neither side were able to capitalize, though, with both ‘keepers coming up big multiple times. The loss for Tacoma, coupled with a win by Sacramento Republic FC over Portland Timbers 2, drops Defiance down to third place in their group and puts a bit of room between them and first place Reno.
The loss will be a tough pill to swallow, but what hurts worse for Defiance are the players who had to leave the game, seemingly due to injury. First Abdoulaye Cissoko, already being played out of position at right back due to Antonee Burke’s absence, came off in the 55th minute. Then in the 74th Nick Hinds came off after appearing to grab at his hamstring following a long run. Sota Kitahara, who has become something of a mainstay in the Defiance midfield, was able to finish the game, but had to receive treatment towards the end of the game and looked gassed at times. That could have been a combination of elevation and playing a hard game rather than any sort of injury or illness. If Tacoma have to play on Wednesday night against Las Vegas Lights FC without Cissoko or Hinds available, their task becomes much more difficult.
Herrera had a number of high-quality saves, but ultimately he was at fault for both goals Tacoma gave up against Reno. While both were sort of fluke goals on Saturday night, they were examples of what has seemed to be his biggest weakness while on loan with Tacoma Defiance. Herrera, whose loan from Oakland Roots SC currently runs through Aug. 12, has often struggled with his decisiveness and ability to control his box, particularly on crosses. On the opening goal, his failure to come out commandingly and grab or punch the ball started the sequence that ended with Reno celebrating. For the second goal, a penalty that could probably be argued in either direction, it was Herrera’s indecisiveness and, as strange as it may be, his apparent lack of confidence as he slid in to challenge for the ball that left enough room for the referee to call the penalty. Had he come out a fraction of a second faster, or extended his body, he likely would have cleanly gotten the ball. Instead, his slight hesitation, his sort of scrunched body shape as he came in to meet the ball, not only gave his opponent the time to challenge for the ball but also presented the image of a player trying to pull back or second guessing his decision. He may have made a clean play, but it looked like he came in late, and that was enough to call a penalty and give up the winning goal in the end.
Tacoma get a chance to put this game behind them in a hurry as their extended road trip takes them to Vegas next. They’ll face Las Vegas Lights FC in four days, on Wednesday, Aug. 12. The game is at 7:30 PM, and you can watch on ESPN+.