TACOMA, Wash. — The Tacoma Defiance needed, desperately, to put an end to their six-game losing streak. While they undoubtedly would have preferred to do so with a win, Saturday night’s 1-1 draw against Reno 1868 FC got the job done. Even more importantly than the result, the Defiance looked good for a solid 75 minutes and were mentally steeled for the entire 90.
They played a little differently than they usually do but did so without abandoning their identity. They still utilized quick passing in the midfield but made their priority progress up the field rather than possession. This struck a nice balance between how they wanted to play — or how the organization wants them to learn to play — and what Reno was giving them.
It is an understatement to say that the Defiance got off to a flying start; after 9 seconds they had scored the quickest goal in USL history, unseating LAGII who scored one in 10 seconds in 2017. Straight from the kickoff Justin Dhillon drove the ball straight up field and sent it wide to Azriel Gonzalez who sent it right back across the six-yard-box where Dhillon put it into the net with a simple header. Both teams were a bit shocked but the Defiance were delirious with their 1-0 lead.
After their goal the Defiance continued their direct play, primarily through Danny Robles whose aggressive and incisive vertical passing propelled the Defiance and unbalanced Reno. They created several more decent chances but were unable to capitalize before Reno worked themselves into the match around the 10’. For the next 20 minutes the sides exchanged stretches of possession.
Each team had one really good chance in this stretch. Reno’s came in the 12’ when Raul Mendiola sent a shot towards the bottom right corner of the goal from outside the box. It was from a bit too far out though and Trey Muse got down well to his left to parry the shot aside. Tacoma answered in the 25’ with a long ball over the top to Dhillon from Jesse Daly. Dhillon was in on goal but his first touch was short and wide which ate up his angle and allowed a Reno defender to catch up to him. This forced his shot wide and Daly’s beautiful pass went unrewarded.
The last third of the first half was largely controlled by Reno. They kicked it off with a nice set piece that gave them a clean header inside the six. Only Muse’s first great save of the season kept it out. From there they kept possession well and began to slice the Defiance backline apart with vertical passes from the half spaces into the gaps between Sam Rogers, Josh Atencio and Nick Hinds. This allowed Reno to get in behind on several occasions but each time their finishing completely abandoned them. Tacoma got to the half up one.
Tacoma came out of the half pressing for the first time in the game. It was a more limited and cautious press than they usually employ but it helped them slow down Reno while staying organized enough to prevent disaster when Reno broke the press. When the Defiance were able to get on the ball, they worked some chances around the box with quick passing and interchange between Robles, Shandon Hopeau and Denso Ulysse. Unfortunately, like Reno in the first half, their finishing abandoned them at key moments.
The match became extremely disjointed around the 60’ with both side essentially just trading free kicks for the next 15 minutes. In the 75’ Reno made an adjustment that handed them control for the rest of the match.
Whenever Muse had the ball, in both dead and live ball situations, Reno man-marked anyone that was close enough to him for him to play them a ball on the ground. They were betting they could win the ball in the air at midfield even when they were outnumbered. They were correct. For the last 15 minutes of the match Reno won nearly every first and second ball in the midfield, essentially trapping the Defiance in their own end. As the pressure mounted the Defiance conceded more and more set pieces. They had struggled defending set pieces all game and with each additional one it felt more inevitable that Reno would eventually score.
And they did in the 84’. On a corner kick Reno targeted their star striker Bryan Brown. Atencio looked to have him covered but inexplicably stepped away from Brown just as the ball was arriving. Brown easily finished the free header to equalize. The next six minutes (plus the mercifully short two extra minutes) felt interminably long but the Defiance admirably kept their heads and concentration to see the match to its final whistle with the score still even.
There are a few things the Defiance have to find solutions to — their inability to defend set pieces and win long balls in midfield — but this match was largely positive. It showed that there is a way forward for the Sounders’ developmental team that can achieve results without sacrificing the system that the organization wants to instill in its young players.
First Team call-up power rankings
(A quick explainer of my methodology: The rankings don’t take into account the roster situation of the First Team, so the player at #1 is the player not on a First Team contract most ready for MLS, not the player the Sounders need to fill out their roster. However, the player in Bold is the player most likely to be the first player given a contract by the Sounders taking into account their roster needs.)
- Sam Rogers
- Denso Ulysse
- Shandon Hopeau
- Danny Robles
- Josh Atencio
Tacoma Defiance I 1-1 I Reno 1868 FC
Saturday, May 18, 2019
Venue: Cheney Stadium I Tacoma, Washington
Referee: Dejan Susak
Assistants: Seth Martin, Cameron Siler
Fourth Official: Corbyn May
Weather: 65 degrees and mostly cloudy
TAC - Justin Dhillon (Azriel Gonzalez) 1’
RENO - Brian Brown (Seth Casiple) 84’
TAC - Jesse Daley (caution) 57’
LINEUPS & STATS
TAC - Trey Muse; Denso Ulysse, Josh Atencio, Sam Rogers, Nick Hinds; Joel Rydstrand, Jesse Daley (Antonee Burke-Gilroy 64’); Shandon Hopeau, Danny Robles (Marlon Vargas 77’), Azriel Gonzalez; Justin Dhillon (Aleks Berkolds 86’)
Substitutes not used: Jacob Castro, Matt Nance, Modou Ndow
Total shots: 10
Shots on goal: 3
RENO - James Marcinkowski; Brent Richards, Zach Carroll, Emrah Klimenta, Duke Lacroix; Raul Mendiola (Sam Gleadle 71’), Will Seymore (Kevin Partida HT), Seth Casiple; Lindo Mfeka; Brian Brown, Corey Hertzog (Danny Musovski 77’)
Substitutes not used: Damion Lewis, Benjamin Galindo, Sergio Rivas, Aidan Apodaca
Total shots: 28
Shots on goal: 9