Time is a meaningless construct, especially during this pandemic and with these apocalyptic seeming clouds of smoke blanketing our cities, but it’s worth remembering that it was only about a month and a half ago that things looked pretty bright for Tacoma Defiance. Three games into their return to play after the pandemic put the season on hold, they had gone 2-0-1 with 10 goals scored and a +7 goal difference. Things started to go bad for Tacoma in their following game, a 2-1 loss down in Reno, and they’ve now lost five straight. Tonight presents an opportunity to turn things around against the same team they faced at the start of their current funk.
The game against Reno won’t be easy. Reno are at the top of Group A (8-2-1, +17), and they’ve beaten Tacoma in both meetings of 2020, including a 3-1 loss in the opening game of the season at Cheney Stadium. Tacoma (2-7-1, -5) come into this game having not played in eight days, and while there have certainly been plenty of challenges in that time — dangerous air quality impacting training, and a positive COVID-19 test within the club that caused this game and their next to both be postponed by a day, to name just two — they’ll also have the benefit of having traveled yesterday instead of traveling on game day like they have for their most recent games. Failure to get a result would mean that Tacoma could see Portland Timbers 2 pass them in the group, as T2 have now won two consecutive games and sit one point behind the Defiance in fourth place in the group.
Tacoma still seems a bit unsettled throughout the lineup, as they continue to try to solve for the absence of Jesse Daley in midfield and attempt to get their offense clicking. Payers like Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Ethan Dobbelaere are a clear addition of talent in attack, but both have failed to get on the score sheet and their inclusions have prompted shuffling around the rest of the front four. Adding to all of that, Tacoma will be without Sam Rogers, as he is on trial with CD Leganés of the Segunda División according to Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey. Tacoma will need to find their rhythm quickly.
Keys to the Match
- Mentor-mentee relationships: The absence of Rogers means that Taylor Mueller is most likely going to be paired with one of Abdoulaye Cissoko or Eric Kinzner. Mueller, at 31, is not only significantly older than Cissoko and Kinzner — 20 and 17, respectively — but he also has much more professional experience. He’ll be relied on to take his CB partner under his wing and provide a calming influence as Tacoma work to slow a Reno attack that has scored 20 goals in their last five games.
- Feel the rhythm: Through Tacoma’s first three games of the restart, during which they scored 10 goals, the starting front four consisted of Azriel Gonzalez, Danny Robles, Marlon Vargas, and Alec Diaz. Those four contributed a combined 5 goals and 4 assists in those games, but have only had 2 goals and 1 assist in the five games since. Players have come in and out of that group in the meantime, but they’ve failed to rediscover the rhythm from those first games. Can they find it in Reno tonight?
- Stay healthy, stay safe: Tacoma have lost players this season, but as of yet none of them have been due to injury. The recent COVID-19 positive test aside — it’s not clear whether it’s a player or someone else within the team — they’ve been able to stay healthy, even as other things have gone wrong on and off the field. With everything going on, the takeaways for this season are going to be limited as any on-field challenges are hard to separate from the existential dread and unending challenges that come with living through a pandemic, but no one needs to add a season-ending injury to all of that.
It remains to be seen if this is actually how the team lines up, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening with this XI. Academy player Josh Hardin makes his first bench appearance of the season.
Former Sounders draft picks Tony Alfaro and Tucker Bone both start.
How to Watch
Date/Time: Thursday, September 17, 6:30 PM PT
Location: Greater Nevada Field, Reno, Nevada
Streaming: ESPN+ (affiliate link)
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