Tacoma Defiance traveled to face New Mexico United in the penultimate game of their season. Tacoma fielded an especially young roster as they were without the U-17 World Cup-bound trio of Ethan Dobbelaere, Danny Leyva, and Alfonos Ocampo-Chavez, and the team also left a few regular starters back home or on the bench. The young squad stood resolute defensively and managed to hold onto a 1-1 road draw.
Facing an opponent in need of a win to keep their season alive, they ran out a back-line that included Tacoma debutante Bryson Hankins and fellow 16-year-old Alex Villanueva as the two fullbacks. The starting XI featured 10 players with ties to the Sounders Academy, and four academy players not yet signed to professional contracts.
The game started with a bang. New Mexico managed two shots and forced one save out of Trey Muse in the first four minutes before Azriel Gonzalez put Tacoma on the board first. Gonzalez received a clever pass from Villanueva at the left edge of the New Mexico box, then sent his defender out for an ice cream cone after a couple of cuts before hitting a great shot into the far netting.
Sadly the lead only lasted about 30 seconds. Immediately from the restart, New Mexico attacked down Tacoma’s right side through Kevaughn Frater who sent a ball across the face of goal. Christopher Wehan beat Berkolds and Villanueva to the slow-rolling ball and put it in the back of the net, leveling the score.
Some of the young players struggled early with the speed and physicality of New Mexico, as Kingston and Villanueva each got beat for pace after some poor positioning, but they managed to adjust as the game progressed. The defense looked strong, but there was some cause for concern when Berkolds went down after he seemed to over-extend on a tackle. As Ever Rubio came on for the injured Berkolds, New Mexico’s push for a goal picked up. Tacoma managed a couple more opportunities, but the vast majority of the chances were New Mexico’s. United really pushed for a winner as the game wore on, but the Defiance never relented and put in a full-team defensive effort to earn a draw and the team’s fourth consecutive result. Tacoma now sit four points ahead of their total from last season with one more home game left to go.
4’- Trey Muse made the first of what would ultimately be 13 saves on a shot from Kevaughn Frater.
7’- Alex Villanueva received the ball in an advanced position on the left wing from Aleks Berkolds. After dribbling down the field he played a cutting pass toward the box for Azriel Gonzalez who put a couple moves on his defender, then put his shot inside the far post. 1-0
8’- Directly from the kick-off after Tacoma’s goal New Mexico played the ball down the left wing where Kevaughn Frater played a 1-2 at the corner of the box with Devon Sandoval before squeezing a ball between Trey Muse and Sam Rogers for Christopher Wehan to run onto. Wehan beat Villanueva and Berkolds to the ball and slid it into the net. 1-1
26’- Josh Atencio picked up a loose ball about 10 yards from the top of the box after Berkolds poked a ball away from a midfielder, then laid the ball off to Danny Robles. Robles took a couple touches, then played Atencio through for a shot that was saved by New Mexico’s Cody Mizell.
33’- Aleks Berkolds comes off with a leg injury and is replace by Ever Rubio.
55’- Marlon Vargas manages to play a great ball that puts Azriel Gonzalez in on goal. Gonzalez dribbles around the ‘keeper, but his touch takes him wide and New Mexico’s defense resets. Gonzalez gets a shot off from close range, but his shot is blocked.
55’- Kevaughn Frater dribbles through the midfield, moving centrally from the left wing, and slides a pass through the box for Devon Sandoval as he runs across the goal from the right. Sandoval manages to get a shot off, but his shot is blocked well by Trey Muse. Santi Moar manages a shot off the rebound, but Muse saves that as well.
63’- After a number of rough tackles in both directions throughout the game, Kevin Fraught is given a yellow for a challenge on Chris Hegardt while one of Hegardt or Kingston commits a foul.
90- Muse makes a save on a shot from Frater inside the box, then a second save on Sandoval’s shot off of the rebound.
90+5- Muse makes an incredible quadruple-save that featured multiple point-blank and reaction saves to preserve the point for Tacoma.
The future is now.
We knew that Tacoma would be without some of their most talented players with Dobbelaere, Leyva, and Ocampo-Chavez on international duty, but when the roster was released for Wednesday’s game it would have been understandable to think that this game might be another tough loss on the road. The starting XI featured two 16-year-olds and two 17-year-olds, and a third 17-year-old subbed on when Ray Serrano came on for Alec Diaz. In spite of the youth in the squad, the players never looked over their heads.
Chris Little runs a system with Tacoma that puts a huge emphasis on the team’s fullbacks. They’re a major part of both possession and attack, and especially on a night like tonight are responsible for a lot of defending. Bryson Hankins did a good job of tracking runners and providing an outlet on the right in his first appearance and start, while Villanueva was a consistent legitimate threat with the ball at his feet on the left. Villanueva is a converted left back who previously played primarily as a winger, and the kid’s got sauce. He’s fearless when he’s dribbling at opponents, has dangerous speed, and through in a few chops and step-overs for good measure.
While Hankins and Villanueva held down the fullback positions, Chris Hegardt and Peter Kingston ran the center of Tacoma’s midfield in a double-pivot. Kingston was occasionally too slow to pick up runners through the middle and struggled with some of New Mexico’s speed, but his skill on the ball and positioning were a huge help as Tacoma tried to release some pressure. At times Hegardt seemed too up for the occasion and probably should have earned himself at least a yellow, but his passing and vision make him an asset.
Tacoma took a very young team into a hostile environment in New Mexico, put in an incredible defensive performance, and came home with a well-earned point.
Muse stands on his head.
There have been times this year when Muse was struggling mightily. He didn’t look confident playing out of the back and his shot-stopping seemed to suffer as well. Whatever was happening, though, he seems to have worked through it. Despite facing 75 shots over the past three games, he’s led the Defiance to a 2-0-1 record. That includes what was probably his best performance of the season on Wednesday. The highlight was his quadruple-save deep into stoppage time that came right in front of the United supporters’ section.
It was the kind of performance that shows why the Sounders were high enough on him to sign him to a Homegrown Player deal after just two years of college.
New Mexico United I 1-1 I Tacoma Defiance
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Venue: Isotopes Park I Albuquerque, New Mexico
Referee: Yusri Rudolf
Assistants: Baboucarr Jallow, Diego Blas
Fourth Official: Cristian Campo
TAC - Azriel Gonzalez (Alex Villanueva) 7’
NM - Christopher Wehan (Kevaughn Frater) 8’
NM - Kevaughn Frater (caution) 63’
TAC - Ever Rubio (caution) 88’
LINEUPS & STATS
TAC - Trey Muse; Bryson Hankins, Sam Rogers, Aleks Berkolds (Ever Rubio 33’), Alex Villanueva; Christopher Hegardt, Peter Kingston; Marlon Vargas(Nick Hinds 73’), Danny Robles, Azriel Gonzalez; Alec Diaz (Ray Serrano 79’)
Substitutes not used: Jamie Lowell, Herbert Robinson
Total shots: 4
Shots on goal: 2
NM - Cody Mizell; Manny Padilla, Rashid Tetteh, Justin Schmidt, Austin Yearwood; Christopher Wehan, Juan Guzman, Saalih Muhammad (Sam Hamilton 64’), Santi Moar; Kevaughn Frater; Devon Sandoval
Substitutes not used: Ben Beaury, Ethen Sampson, Daniel Bruce, David Estrada, Tommy Madden, Antonio Soler Mulet
Total shots: 36
Shots on goal: 15