When the Seattle Sounders lineup is announced tonight it will probably feel more like a Tacoma Defiance lineup. There’s a wave of absences right now that could include as many as seven players who could have theoretically started in this game. And May is packed — even without a win tonight there are midweek games May 17 and May 31. With an Open Cup win you can add one on May 24. That’s three weeks of double-game weeks — which is creates some very real challenges if you are in charge of team fitness and lineup selection.
With Léo Chú likely out and Schmetzer denying some veterans’ requests to start, the lineup that started against San Diego Loyal is going to be even weaker. Additionally, Obed Vargas is already with the US U-20s, but here there’s good news — Josh Atencio is back to 90 minutes fit.
Cleveland; Baker, Arreaga, Cissoko, Baker-Whiting; Atencio, Kitahara; Rothrock or Minoungou, Teves, Dobbelaere; Montero
The bench will include five more Defiance players and a couple Sounders.
Only four players in that XI spent more time with the Sounders than Defiance over the last 15 months.
The game is against the LA Galaxy, who have much more reason to think their MLS regular season is over, because the only thing keeping them alive is the soft orange line thanks to playoff expansion.
Seattle, in their quest to win multiple trophies has to trust the youth — a youth that has shown itself capable of winning regularly.
The Sounders-only fan already knows to trust Obed Vargas and Josh Atencio when they’re in the lineup. They trusted Danny Leyva when he was here.
But Seattle’s young depth goes beyond that.
These are players that win GA Cups, that make a lower division playoff run, that win in college. Defiance is a team that, for the past six years, has produced an average of three MLS-caliber players for the Sounders each season! Several others have left the Sounders development system to join first teams outside of the Pacific Northwest.
You might hate and doubt the decision to start a weak lineup against the sorrowful LA Galaxy.
The players? They’re battling for another payday, unsatisfied with a few 4-day calls. They want the real deal and the crowd of tens of thousands ready to shout their names.
Get to know the Defiance players you are likely to see.
Right side, left side — it doesn’t matter. Cody Baker’s real side is “that man won’t get by me.” He’s a defensive stalwart first and foremost, an intellect who plays with a fundamental understanding of the ground he controls in the Seattle shape.
You can’t stop the Rothrock. He is absolutely greedy to see the center referee turn towards the centerline indicating a goal. Defensively, Paul is a motor guy who won’t tire or weary. If Baker has a fundamental understanding of modern shapes, Rothrock is the one who studies soccer tactics with a desire for a Ph.D. Additionally, he has the vibe that’s hard to stop.
Now begoggled, Minoungou is probably the best flair player to wear a Defiance top. There are times he does things with the ball that will force your jaw to the floor. He’s also bigger, stronger and faster than a winger has any right to be. If Léo Chú was from Cote d’Ivoire he’d be a smaller Georgi. If Georgi was from Brazil he’d be a million dollar talent.
The former Seattle U defensive mid has picked up centerback beautifully. Uderitz has also maintained the beauty of being a penalty-kick maestro, the third straight CB from Defiance doing such (AB Cissoko and the now-free agent Achille Robin the others). Hal will likely help at DM like he did against San Diego, because Seattle will need Atencio in those upcoming double-game weeks.
The other draft pick of 2023, Bjørgolfsson didn’t get the opportunity against San Diego. He made up for that with a beautiful performance in league play against the Real Monarchs, to include the most athletic headed goal I’ve seen from an S2/Defiance player ever. Eythor is learning to separate from the defenders rather than have two stuck to him at all times. There’s a scoring streak coming, because with an additional foot of space he’ll be potent.
There’s never been a year when Defiance haven’t tried to convert a talented winger to fullback. Sousa is this year’s project, trying to follow in the steps of Henry Wingo, Antonee Burke and others. Travian will play left back like those rangey LBs of the past — Smith, Jones, Medranda. Sousa’s offering is something that Baker, Nouhou, Baker-Whiting don’t have — speed with additional speed and the frame to be back-post target for a header.
Seattle’s best prospect that isn’t part of the US YNT system, Herrera already has Mexico YNT calls. He can be a 10 or central winger. Difficult to dispossess, Antonio thrives on high contact and tight quarters. That may be something the coaches look to change due to his size, but this highly technical player can find passing lanes through 1-v-2 and 1-v-3 situations.
When Seattle is playing these men — not boys, not teens, but real actual men with years of professional experience — they are doing so for two reasons.
- The May schedule and the injury crises met at the same time.
- These players are winners.
As Sounders VP of Player Development Henry Brauner said after Seattle’s second GA Cup title, “Now, can they push the envelope even more so when they go into Defiance? Can they push even more to get into the First Team even earlier, maybe? Then we’re developing the next generation to do the same thing.
“The last two groups have won it, this is the expectation. This isn’t like maybe if we play well maybe we can win. No, you need to be in a final, you need to win. The standard’s been set.”
The fastest way to that next contract is to win, tonight and then again, whenever they’re called upon.