TACOMA, Wash. — At the start of Saturday night’s matchup between the Tacoma Defiance and El Paso Locomotive FC, it looked as if the Defiance would be run off the pitch by Locomotive’s quick passing and merciless press. After letting in the first goal, they were able to catch up with Locomotive’s physical and mental speed, though. Unfortunately, one poorly defended Locomotive counter in the second half cancelled out Justin Dhillon’s fantastic individual goal in the first to give Locomotive a 2-1 victory. The loss snapped the Defiance’s season-best three-game unbeaten streak.
15’ Henry Wingo committed a silly foul right on the edge of the box. It could have easily been given as a penalty but the referee called it just outside the box. Bryan Meredith made a mess of the ensuing free kick, dropping an easy catch into the path of Nick Ross. Ross couldn’t quite settle it in time, giving Meredith time to recover and smother his shot.
21’ Justin Dhillon brought a long ball down well and was free to push to the edge of the box where he sent in a clever cross to Azriel Gonzalez. His first-time volley beat Locomotive keeper Logan Ketterer but was spectacularly cleared off the line.
28’ Tacoma made a mess of defending a free kick into the box. They had two easy chances to clear it but missed at both. The ball eventually fell to Jerome Kiesewetter who backheeled it out of the air but right into Meredith.
31’ Loco’s superior play finally paid off. Sam Rogers half-cleared a corner kick and Locomotive quickly got it headed back toward goal. Rogers had another chance to clear it but missed almost entirely and the ball ended up behind him. It fell to Kiesewetter who lifted the ball over Meredith for the goal. Kiesewetter was in an offside position but Rogers’ attempt to play the ball nullified the offside and the goal stood.
42’ Dhillon evened the score with a fantastic individual goal. Aleks Berkolds played Dhillon down the left side. Dhillon collected it and drove at Drew Beckie, pushing him back into the box. Then he made a little feint to his left, which wrong-footed the defender as Dhillon cleared the ball from his feet to set up for a right footed shot that he slotted by Ketterer to make it 1-1.
45+4’ Meredith again flapped at a ball that he should have caught, pushing it right into the path of Ross. Meredith was again lucky that the ball wouldn’t settle for Ross which gave him time to recover and stop a shot from close range with a decent reaction save.
68’ Locomotive broke the Tacoma press for the first time in awhile and got numbers around the Tacoma box. Rogers blocked their first shot attempt and the loose ball fell to Gonzalez. He had plenty of time to clear it and relieve the pressure on an outnumbered Defiance defense, but instead tried to dribble/pass out of the back. Locomotive tackled the ball off him and two passes later Calvin Rezende turned it into the net to make it 2-1.
Is Justin Dhillon, like, good?
When the Defiance signed Dhillon it seemed like he was mostly brought in to fill out a forward pool that consisted of two 17-year-olds who would be sharing time between the Defiance, the Academy and possibly the USYNT. Dhillon was once a promising prospect in the LA Galaxy Academy but after two years with LAG II and only scoring three goals in 2018, the Galaxy organization moved on from him. In his first two months in Tacoma it made sense why the Galaxy had let him go: He couldn’t hold up the ball, he tried to get in behind but it was mostly a waste of energy and, while he got in some good places in the box, he couldn’t finish even easy chances.
Then on May 12 against T2 he scored his first goal for the Defiance and he hasn’t stopped. His goal on Saturday gave him a goal in five consecutive matches. Not only has his finishing improved but he has shown an ability to get his own shot — exemplified by his goal Saturday night — and has improved his use of space by angling his runs outside where he doesn’t have to beat a defender and the goalie to the ball.
Dhillon isn’t ever going to be as productive as Raúl Ruidíaz, and probably not Will Bruin, but he does look like a player who could score a few goals in MLS someday. Whether that will be with the Sounders is hard to say but Dhillon has proved he is more than a one-year filler.
Do the Defiance practice defending set pieces?
Obviously they do, but they are bad enough at it that hearing they don’t practice them would be reassuring. Yes, the Defiance are a small team, and that combined with unfamiliarity could be a reasonable explanation for their struggles early in the season but not now. They should know what they are supposed to do by now and they aren’t actually that small anymore — against Locomotive the Defiance had the two tallest players on the field by two inches. If the problem was that teams were beating them to contested headers, size might still be an explanation, but the Defiance are letting teams have uncontested headers and/or letting the ball bounce in the box.
Some of the struggle can be explained. First, Rogers needs to be more assertive, he is the tallest player and one of the team’s leaders; he needs to take charge in the box. Second, the whole team, including Rogers, needs to get better at clearing balls out of the box. Opponents get shots by taking advantage of Tacoma’s missed or half clearances way too often. Many of the players seem to panic and flail wildly at the ball when they need to clear it. Maybe that can only be fixed with match time but it is something that this team needs to practice.
What is not clear is why so many set pieces bounce in the Defiance box. The coaches, who are smarter than me, need to find a solution though.
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.)
- Shandon Hopeau (↑2)
- Denso Ulysse (↓1)
- Sam Rogers (↓1)
- Justin Dhillon (NEW)
- Josh Atencio (—)
Tacoma Defiance I 1-2 I El Paso Locomotive FC
Saturday, June 1, 2019
Venue: Cheney Stadium I Tacoma, Washington
Referee: Joseph Salinas
Assistants: Baboucarr Jallow, Cameron Siler
Fourth Official: Hanif Zarrabi-Kashani
Weather: 70 degrees and mostly sunny
EPL - Jerome Kiesewetter 31’
TAC - Justin Dhillon (Aleks Berkolds) 42’
EPL - Calvin Rezende (Omar Salgado) 68’
TAC - Sam Rogers (caution) 24’
TAC - Jesse Daley (caution) 55’
EPL - Louis Herrera (caution) 62’
TAC - Joel Rydstrand (caution) 70’
EPL - Nick Ross (caution) 75’
LINEUPS & STATS
TAC - Bryan Meredith; Henry Wingo (Denso Ulysse HT), Sam Rogers, Aleks Berkolds, Nick Hinds; Joel Rydstrand, Jesse Daley (Danny Leyva 69’); Shandon Hopeau, Danny Robles, Azriel Gonzalez; Justin Dhillon (Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez 79’)
Substitutes not used: Jacob Castro, Modou Ndow, Ben Numbi, Antonee Burke-Gilroy
Total shots: 7
Shots on goal: 2
EPL - Logan Ketterer; Bryam Rebelion, Drew Beckie, Chiro N’Toko, Andrew Fox; Richie Ryan, Yuma Monsalvez (Calvin Rezende 65’); Omar Salgado, Sebastian Contreras (Louis Herrera 60’), Nick Ross; Jerome Kiesewetter (Derek Gebhard 84’)
Substitutes not used: Jermaine Fordah, Daniel Navarro, Aaron Gomez, Edson Partida
Total shots: 10
Shots on goal: 6