Tacoma Defiance start their 2022 season on Sunday (Noon, MLSNEXTPro.com), facing off against Real Monarchs. They’re back at Starfire on Sunday and on nine other dates — Defiance are only in Cheney Stadium twice this season. Building the foundation for this year’s roster are seven returnees from the 2021 team that almost made the playoffs, six of whom were in the Academy. Both of the Seattle Sounders’ 2022 draft picks made the squad, as did two international signings and three free agents from other USL teams.
Defiance has their oldest roster of the Garth Lagerwey era, at 21.2 years old on opening day. That’s despite the lack of a Taylor Mueller or David Estrada to raise the average. There is less variance in overall age, with fewer teenagers than any prior Defiance roster. Wade Webber’s side will look to take another step forward in 2022 and to continue the tradition of adding three talents to the First Team every year.
Juan Alvarez (17, winger/forward, Sounders Academy) — Mostly a sub in 2021, Alvarez is a flair attacker who is still finding which position is best for his future. This is fine; he was only 16 last year, and still earned a couple deals to sit on the First Team bench for competitive matches. Juan has strong dribbling skills and always works his way toward goal. There’s a hunger for goals, which might be why he scored a brace for Defiance in their 5-1 preseason win over Sporting International FC.
Cody Baker (18, right back/centerback, Sounders Academy) — On a team with four, maybe five?, right backs in 2021, Baker was the one who eventually earned the starts at the end of the year. Cody shifted wide as he started professional play and quickly answered any questions about his ability to enter the attack by being the best crosser on the squad.
Joe Hafferty (24, outside back, Oregon State Beavers) — Hafferty was acquired in a draft-day trade, returning him to the organization where he spent his Academy time. Then, as a late signing after graduating from Terry Boss’ Oregon State, Joe switched sides of the field. Capable of being a utility defender in any spot, he understands the ethos of the club. Hafferty probably had the best preseason of any unsigned Defiance player and earned a short-term loan to Seattle during a CCL match. He had one preseason goal.
Eric Kinzner (19, centerback, Sounders Academy) — A teen defender whose coach is from the same part of the Sound and who studied under Mueller, Tom Brewitt, and Jackson Ragen, Kinzner is ready to use that booming left foot in the attack and his broad shoulders in defense. Eric’s entering year 3 as a pro at a position that has one of the slowest growth curves. He fit the 3-back set quite well, but in 2022 he’ll have to learn that 4-man back line again.
Sota Kitahara (19, defensive mid/right back, Sounders Academy) — Kitahara spent most of his 2021 season on loan with Pinzgau Saalfelden in Austria, where he thrived playing mostly right back. While there’s still some question about his best position, there’s no question about his development track, which is to make good things happen. Sota is athletic and a hard tackler who plays with his head up. In 2022 he should feature regularly for Defiance.
Marlon Vargas (21, winger/CAM, Sounders Academy) — Development is not linear. This truism should be remembered for a player like Vargas, who is somehow only 21 and yet forgotten by fans and outside observers. In 2021 he learned how to play the false-9 in a 4-3-3 and in a 3-4-3. While doing so he nabbed an assist hattie. Marlon is one of those men who glows when playing soccer, always happy to have a ball at his feet and teammates to play with. When he assists or scores he glows like the sun. He had one preseason goal.
The Defiant of 2022
Randy Mendoza (26, left back/right back, Charlotte Independence) — The Defiant is my own personal award to the player who most captures the spirit of Tacoma and Defiance. It is a sign of hard work, grit, determination, and team spirit. Back in 2019 it was Jesse Daley. For 2020 it was Ray Serrano. For 2021 that man was Randy Mendoza, the utility defender who vehemently objects to anyone trying to attack through his space. Mendoza’s season ended early when he committed a yellow-card offense that resulted in a broken jaw and concussion. Randy worked his way back into soccer shape during the offseason and was the second-to-last of the Defiance players to leave camp with the First Team.
USL Free Agents
Wallis Lapsley (24, goalkeeper, FC Tucson) — You just saw Lapsley on the bench for the Sounders. Called up due to extreme hardship when both Stefan Frei and Andrew Thomas were injured, Wallis is a third-year pro who was drafted in 2020 out of UC Davis. The former Aggie played at Lakeside High School and is a former Washington State Gatorade Player of the Year. In the tradition of S2/Defiance keepers, he’s a giant at 6’5”.
Valentin Sabella (22, winger, Charlotte Independence) — Sabella scored one goal during preseason while on trial with Defiance. He’s an Argentine who signed with Charlotte Independence after a strong Open Cup as an amateur back in 2019. With Charlotte he scored six goals and assisted three times while starting 17 of his 54 appearances. He can play wide or up top.
Travian Sousa (20, left back, Oakland Roots) — In the Before Times, Sousa played for HSV U-19s, where he scored a goal and played the sixth-most minutes for Hamburger’s youth side. Last year he played for Oakland Roots and was also under contract with Sporting KC II. Only 20, this signing seems to fit the reboot mold as this is the fifth org for Travian, who was with Sacramento Republic’s academy prior to going to Germany. He had one preseason goal.
Achille Robin (24, centerback, University of Washington Huskies) — The French player looks to continue Seattle’s strong francophone connection by coming up through Defiance. Robin played in the lower tiers in France, in a community far from any fully pro side. Encouraged to explore schooling by his parents, he went to Bowling Green State for 3 years and then joined the Huskies for their best season ever. Achille is a giant of a man who was a regular target on set pieces at BGSU.
Hal Uderitz (22, centerback/defensive mid, Seattle University) — Announced as a centerback, Uderitz played defensive mid in his college days, too. The son of former MLS player Scott Uderitz, Hal played both at Snohomish High and Crossfire, prior to joining Seattle U and Pete Fewing. He is another local collegiate performer drafted by the Sounders, who seem to have adjusted towards drafting players they know very well due to locale.
Alfred Gombe-Fei (21, forward, MFK Vyksov) — The only pure forward on the roster, Gombe-Fei is a Central African Republic youth international who scored against Tunisia when he started four matches in the U-20 Africa Cup. He also made a single appearance for the senior national team for C.A.R, but has had limited pro time to this point. MFK Vyksov is the team where Ethan Dobbeleare was to play on loan to start this year, until he returned to Seattle injured.
Georgi Minoungou (20, winger, MFK Vyksov) — One of those players who there is yet to be a lot of information on, Minoungou is a Côte d’Ivoire youth international. The Sounders press release says he’s a speedy winger. Here’s a highlight reel.
Academy players you’ll likely see
Snyder Brunell — A 2007 midfielder lauded for his two-footedness and soccer IQ.
Jayson Castillo — Primarily a right back, the 2006 is currently with the USA U17 team in Argentina.
Alex Hall — The 2005 midfielder has already gotten some training sessions with the first team and scored for the Defiance in preseason.
Stuart Hawkins — The 2006 centerback showed enough promise that he traveled to Southern California for first team preseason and was called into the USA U17 camp. Despite his age, the Sounders seem to think he’s got the size and skills to hang with MLS Next Pro attackers.
Michael Luande — The 2006 striker spent much of the early part of preseason with the first team and has been a prolific scorer at the academy level.
Etienne Veillard — Lauded for his instincts and attacking ability, the 2007 midfielder been compared to a more offense-minded Obed Vargas.
Additions from Sounders throughout season
Some of the more lightly used players with the First Team should get time with Defiance. Early indications are that Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, Dylan Teves, Danny Leyva, Andrew Thomas, Reed Baker-Whiting, and Ethan Dobbeleare will see time in MLS NEXT Pro.
Defiance return Head coach Wade Webber, assistant coach Michael Morris, and goalkeepers coach Josh Ford.
Gone, but not necessarily forgotten
The Sounders still hold MLS rights to Ray Serrano, Alex Villanueva, and Sam Rogers. Serrano is with Louisville City. Villanueva is at Orange County. Rogers is with Rosenborg in Norway. They could make a return to Seattle at some point, or just go on to have awesome careers like Ugo Okoli, Henry Wingo and Aaron Long.