Last Monday, Tacoma Defiance hosted Portland Timbers 2. Unlike the senior teams, the reserve sides haven't had close contests. Defiance have dominated the rivalry, and on that Labor Day night they did so in ripe fashion.
The 4-0 victory earned Defiance the Pacific Division title for the second straight season. It also not-quite eliminated T2 from the playoff picture (they're seven points below the line with three matches to play).
Paul Rothrock scored twice in the win, earning the player of the match. The ball movement on his second goal was typical of the night. Defiance players passed and moved aggressively into open spaces, picking apart a T2 side that was outclassed.
But winning the division again and making the playoffs — a historic achievement for S2/Defiance — wasn't the goal for head coach Wade Webber and his men.
“As much as it’s great to make the playoffs, we set that as a minimum expectation this season internally,” Webber said after practice this week.
“If we were driving an automobile we'd rip off the rear-view mirror. You cannot look backwards. We have to look forward.”
Forward are three final matches in the regular season, where the battle for seeding is still tight. Defiance will host the first round by winning the division, but overall standings determine the rest of the playoff structure.
Webber's men are 9-2-2 at home this season. Starfire is the fortress that Lumen hasn't been. The movement and pace of play relative to the level are not just enjoyable, but a winning path in MLS Next Pro. Trickling in a few MLS players just on the outside of rotational play helps Defiance create even more danger.
They overperform their fundamentals, especially on defense. A tiny bit of that is gamestate, but Defiance are still slightly below neutral xGD in even gamestate.
Much of the strength of performance comes from a will and refusal to be overlooked. If may also come because Defiance's players can look to a struggling first team and see opportunity – the third, eighth and 11th most used Sounders this season came through the second team. So did players 15, 16, 18, and 19 in minutes played in regular season competition.
Playing well while Defiance wins earned MLS contracts is a path to larger contracts. Amateur Defiance midfielder Snyder Brunell looks to be the next on that path.
For now, Defiance are looking forward. A pennant isn't enough. There's an un-won trophy to still claim.
"We're not satisfied as a group,” Webber said.
If Webber makes four rounds of banana bread in the playoffs Defiance will have met more than the minimum expectations for 2023.
Next match: Sunday night Defiance host San Jose Earthquakes 2 at Starfire Stadium. You can watch in stadium or on MLS Season Pass at 7 pm PT.