Considering how the first two-thirds of the season went, the Tacoma Defiance have to be pretty pleased with how they closed it out. The Defiance got goals from Azriel Gonzalez, Marlon Vargas and Jesse Daley in their 2019 season finale to beat playoff-bound Austin Bold 3-1 on Saturday.
This win allowed the Defiance to end the season on a five-game unbeaten streak, their longest unbeaten streak since 2016, and improve on last year’s point total by six points. It also improved their record to 6-7-2 over their final 15 games. Such a pace over the course of a full season would have still left them short of the USL Championship playoffs, but only just barely.
The starting lineup for the Defiance in their season finale was not quite as young as they’ve been using during much of this end-of-season run, but still featured eight players from the Sounders Academy. Among them was 17-year-old Chris Hegardt, who is still a member of the academy.
The Defiance got off to a strong start with Handwalla Bwana having what was probably his best game in a Defiance uniform. Bwana was causing the Bold defense problems throughout and set up the first goal on a cut-back cross that found Azriel Gonzalez streaking into the goal box. It was Gonzalez’s second straight game with a goal and his fourth in 2019, a season in which he missed four months with injury.
The Defiance extended their lead in large part through the efforts of reserve Marlon Vargas. In the 77th minute, he finished off a perfectly placed Shandon Hopeau cross at the back post and two minutes later set up Jesse Daley for a goal from just outside the penalty area. Although Bold pulled one back in the 82nd minute, it wasn’t enough to spoil another solid outing from goalkeeper Trey Muse who made four saves.
Trending up: In hindsight it was probably setting unrealistic expectations when Garth Lagerwey said he thought this team could compete for a playoff spot this year. Then again, maybe he wasn’t entirely anticipating how much roster shuffling would be required when he said that. The Defiance ended up using 46 players, all but two of whom started at least once and 18 of whom started at least 12 games. No Defiance player made as many as 30 appearances and only eight of them played in at least two-thirds of their games. Alfonso The starting lineup changed virtually every game.
Notably not among the Defiance leaders in minutes played were the team’s two most promising prospects Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Danny Leyva. Both were called away constantly first for important Sounders Academy tournaments, youth national team matches and even to the first team. Once those two started playing more regularly for the Defiance and the lineups started to stabilize, results improved dramatically.
When the Defiance had most of their top academy talent, a team of mostly teenagers was able to hold its own even with some of the USL Championship’s best and most experienced teams. That was more along the lines of the vision Lagerwey probably had when he made his possibly off-hand prediction at the start of the season.
Keep an eye on Azriel Gonzalez: It seems like ages ago when the Gonzalez signed his first pro contract as a 16-year-old. Ever since then, expectations were that he would eventually become the organization’s first teenage sensation. In reality, though, that was just two years ago and Gonzalez is still just 18 with a huge chunk of this year lost to injury.
In the four games since his return, Gonzalez has looked as confident and effective as he ever has. It’s worth remembering that he’ll still be 18 at the start of the 2020 season and still has barely played one full season worth of professional matches. While he’s not yet ready for MLS, he is showing progress and he’s young enough to believe he can still develop into a quality first-team contributor.
Tacoma Defiance I 3-1 I Austin Bold FC
Saturday, October 19, 2019
Venue: Cheney Stadium I Tacoma, Washington
Referee: Malik Badawi
Assistants: Chris Elliot, Christian Clerc
Fourth Official: Taylor Vance
TAC - Azriel Gonzalez (Handwalla Bwana) 21’
TAC - Marlon Vargas (Shandon Hopeau) 77’
TAC - Jesse Daley (Marlon Vargas) 79’
AUS - Kris Tyrpak 82’
AUS - Thomas de Villardi (caution) 61’
TAC - Chris Hegardt (caution) 88’
TAC - Sam Rogers (caution) 89’
LINEUPS & STATS
TAC - Trey Muse; Antonee Burke-Gilroy, Sam Rogers, Ever Rubio, Nick Hinds; Chris Hegardt, Jesse Daley; Handwalla Bwana (Shandon Hopeau 62’), Danny Robles (Herbert Robinson 84’), Azriel Gonzalez (Marlon Vargas 74’); Justin Dhillon
Substitutes not used: Jamie Lowell, Modou Ndow, Bryson Hankins, Alec Diaz
Total shots: 12
Shots on goal: 4
AUS - Juan Ramirez; Sean McFarlane, Jermaine Taylor, Edson Braafheid (George Acosta 60’), Demar Phillips; Xavi Baez, Valzri Saromutin (Thomas de Villardi HT); Amobi Okygo, Ema Twumasi, Francis Atuahene (Kris Tyrpak 65’); Andre Lima
Substitutes not used: Diego Restrepo, Jorge Troncoso, Josua Soto, Sonny Guadarrama
Total shots: 19
Shots on goal: 5