Tacoma Defiance and Sacramento Republic FC started the COVID-19 portion of the season together back on July 13 when the two sides played to a wild 3-3 draw. Since then, the two teams have had drastically different seasons. Tacoma won their next two games - a pair of meetings with Portland Timbers 2, which Tacoma won by a combined score of 7-0 - but have yet to get any kind of result since, reeling off six straight losses. Meanwhile Sacramento have won seven games since that first meeting with Tacoma, and haven’t lost since July 25. Tacoma have been eliminated from playoff contention, while Sacramento still have a race ahead of them as they and Reno 1868 FC compete for first in Group A.
With no hope for a playoff spot, this game is about professional pride and development. Tacoma has lots of promise and talent in the squad, but amidst the circumstances under which this season has played that promise and talent haven’t been enough to win games. They have already lost Jesse Daley, have played this season without the likes of Josh Atencio, Justin Dhillon, Shandon Hopeau, and Danny Leyva, and have to prepare for a likely future without Sam Rogers. Other players have done what they can to step up, but that amount of change is hard to deal with for any team. Still, Chris Little’s side can work to determine who is going to win the job(s) in the center of midfield, who is going to step up without Sam Rogers around. For these guys there’s still plenty to play for, even if that doesn’t include the post-season.
One bright spot in the recent game against Reno was that the attack seemed to come alive, with a multi-goal game for the first time since the 4-0 win against T2 on August 3. Provided that performance was the beginning of a trend and not an outlier, Tacoma still need to improve their cohesion and performance on the other end of the field. Defiance have given up three goals in six of their 11 games played in 2020, with another two games where they allowed two goals. Even when the attack isn’t struggling, it’s hard to be successful when opponents are finding it so easy to score.
Keys to the Match
- Get in where you fit in: One of the challenges facing coach Chris Little is how to get his best players on the field together, and in roles that suit them. Finding a way to get Alec Diaz and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez into the same side has been particularly difficult, but could prove invaluable as both players work to prove that their hot streaks - Diaz’s at the beginning of the restart, and AOC’s at the end of last season - were repeatable performances.
- Basic geometry: At their core, formations are simply a matter of shapes and numbers. The interesting stuff comes from what happens within that geometry, what roles and responsibilities are filled by which groups and individuals. Against Reno, Tacoma changed that geometry by playing with three center backs in a 3-5-2/3-4-3 of sorts with Alex Villanueva and Antonee Burke providing the width as wingbacks. The move didn’t seem to stem the tide of goals, so Little’s side may revert to their more familiar 4-2-3-1.
- Let Ray cook: It’s often easy to forget just how young some of the Sounders Academy products in the Defiance team are, but Ray Serrano is an 18-year-old in his third year as a pro. It’s taken him time to grow into the USL level, but in 2020 he’s made two starts in eight appearances for 331 minutes. In those limited minutes he’s got two goals and four key passes, including a start and a goal against Reno on Thursday. Ray Serrano turning into a consistent threat would be a significant boost.
Chris Little returns to the 4-2-3-1 with an all-teen midfield duo, while Chino Perez moves into the starting lineup and Danny Robles returns to his spot as the 10.
The Bad Guys.
Our @ArdenFair starting XI vs @TACdefiance.— Republic FC (@SacRepublicFC) September 21, 2020
This marks @JuanBarahona96's return and first appearance since notching the club's first assist of the season in the home opener back in March. #SACvTAC | @UCDavisHealth pic.twitter.com/A0KmB5nkiZ
How to Watch
Date/Time: Sunday, September 20, 7:30 PM PT
Location: Papa Murphy’s Park, Sacramento, California
Streaming: ESPN+ (affiliate link)
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