Assessing prospects is not science. It may not even be art+science. Formerly top-rated talents can go from the top 10 of a 22 under 22 list to getting also mentions in a “short list” of 34 in just a year’s time.
Development is never linear.
But even as individuals stagnate, the organization is in a stronger place in general. They have more prospects than ever, playing the numbers game. These players are across the spectrum from teenagers already plying their trade on an MLS roster to “elder” prospects that are on the cusp of breaking in.
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As a polishing system, Tacoma Defiance seems to be working. On average three players have made the step from Defiance to Seattle Sounders per season. But they lack the big wins of producing a high 7-figure transfer fee or league-wide recognition. The best performing of the current crop is once-discarded Jackson Ragen.
But as prospects can have a dip year they can also explode onto the season — see Ragen or 2022 Obed Vargas or 2021 Josh Atencio or 2019 Danny Leyva.
The future is always imperfect.
Defiance on the pitch
Since the Seattle Sounders last win, Tacoma Defiance is 3-2-2 (+1 shootout win), +3 goal difference with six different goal scorers and three forced own goals. They’ve settled into a 3-4-3 with wingbacks during that time, including a funky switch of Fito Ovalle (26) to a centerback, where he’s excelled in setting the tempo of play.
Center forwards have included a half-dozen players with differing styles. The wingers and wingbacks mean there is always an overload available and the transition of Fito to CB means that one or both of the DMs can move forward in support.
The combination of shape, maturity and drive has created a team that is more than the sum of its parts. Defiance are one of the pacey teams at the level, though they don’t generate enough shots from their presence in the attacking third. But Wade Webber’s team is generating own goals and penalty opportunities at a higher rate, numbers that don’t show in the shots taken column.
Defiance do tend to give up a goal every match, but in only six matches have they given up two or more goals. It’s a steady defense supported by keepers capable of showing well if not showing off.
Each division winner makes the playoffs, as well as the top 5 non-division winners from the conference. Defiance are third in the Western Conference, but dominating the teams they play the most.
Defiance are dominant compared to their Pacific Division peers. From MLS Next Pro
Once upon a time the Sounders’ best prospects were demonstrating some individual skill while losing games. The change to Next Pro and an organizational demonstration that success matters to those evaluating prospects has nudged Defiance from a fingers-crossed to make the playoffs with luck team to a team that expects greatness.
The Seattle Sounders could sign a Defiance player right now. Here are the top three who could help them earn a point in 2023. The first two have been outlined pretty extensively, and from early in the season it became apparent they were the top two attacking options.
- Braudilio Rodrigues (23) — Early in the season Wade Webber talked about the need for Rodrigues to understand the pockets of space available and for the team to understand the pockets where Braudilio would be after the pass. As those minds melded he’s netting goals of all types. A deft dribbler, Brau can create on his own as well. If one were to get a tracking map of his positioning you’ll see a player who weaves in unconventional fashions. Those that love off-ball movement and surprising thoughts will enjoy his play.
- Paul Rothrock (24) — Rothrock’s play has faded a tiny bit in the latter part of the season, but not enough to pull him off of the Sounders’ radar. He’s recently been practicing with the First Team. Paul is the much less speedy version of Cristian Roldan. Paul offers some ball control, the vision to sling in passes from wide or narrow spaces, an occasional goal — his success with the First Team during those short-term callups isn’t repeatable, even though very fun. Seattle controls his rights, which may move him to the top of the list.
- Gio Miglietti (23) — Gio’s stock has to be spiking. Anything that’s been asked of him he’s done, with a smile. On the fringes of professionalism since his teenage years as an out-of-position 6, the former attacking mid played centerback in his final year at UW. Now, he’s earned center forward playing time over more highly regarded prospects and drafted talent. As the second-leading scorer on the team (5 goals), Gio’s shown something lacking on the senior team — the ability to will the ball into the net.
Miglietti has an understanding of the space available during play that seems preternatural. His G+ (ASA) Receiving/90 is 6th among Next Pro players with 600+ minutes. That’s good for second on Defiance. Of the Defiance attacking players he’s also best at Interrupting, the defensive measure for “Tackles, Interceptions, Blocks, Clearances, Recoveries, Contested Headers.”
This is exactly the type of player you want on the pitch to help a team when they need a single goal to rescue point(s) in the final few minutes of regulation. The Receiving/Interrupting pattern is similar to what Cristian Roldan and Dylan Teves are doing out wide, but Gio does it centrally.
These players aren’t going to help the first team in 2023, but you should be following them.
- Andrew Thomas (24) — His range of influence in the attack is game-changing. His long balls come from both throws and kicks, and while those plays reduce his successful passing percentages, they change how the opposition can press as he’s willing to play over it. Thomas has a 1.21 GAA, a decent number considering his rare clean sheets.
- Stuart Hawkins (16) — Hawkins developed into a Next Pro starting-quality player, which is part of why Defiance moved to a three-back set. They have to give the likely U-17 World Cup player the touches to develop. Stu should be a permanent starter next season and will look to follow and exceed previous pro CBs coming up through the system (Rogers, Ragen, Kinzner).
- Antonio Herrera (18) — Blessed and cursed, Herrera is now the play-anywhere ball control specialist. He’s been a wingback and winger. A man without position at this time, there could be concern that he’s the next Dobbeleare or Baker-Whiting. Antonio has stronger dribbling skills than either and is in the Mexico YNT pipeline, where he’ll get international experience as an attacker.