Facing a team that hadn’t played a competitive game of soccer in so long that they’d seen the seasons change twice, and bolstered by an impressive comeback to earn a 3-3 draw earlier in the week, Tacoma Defiance impressed as they beat Portland Timbers 2 by a score of 3-0 on Saturday night.
Tacoma took advantage of the first of their four home games at Cheney Stadium during USL’s return to play as they built off of their strong performance on Monday in their 3-3 draw against Sacramento Republic. While they repeated their offensive output by putting up another three goals, that attacking prowess was paired with a much more solid defensive performance.
Alec Diaz got the scoring started off once again for Tacoma, when Antonee Burke played a ball down the wing for him in the 14th minute. Diaz rounded the Portland goalkeeper and passed the ball into goal from a tight angle. Burke wasn’t done with the assist on Diaz’s goal, though. In the 58th minute Burke’s route to his second assist was a bit simpler as he played a square ball to Danny Robles about 30 yards from goal. Robles proceeded to dribble forward without attracting much pressure before splitting two defenders as he moved across the top of the box, then hitting his shot back across goal and over the Portland ‘keeper. New Tacoma player Chino Pérez wrapped up the goal scoring in the 64th when he put away the rebound following a play that he’d had a hand in starting.
While the offense was clicking, the defense still has some work to do. Although they kept a clean sheet — a feat worth celebrating — they still looked shaky at times. The two teams were nearly even on fouls, with Portland conceding 16 to Tacoma’s 17, but Tacoma’s fouls tended to lead to dangerous free kick opportunities. Fortunately none of those free kicks created much real trouble, but against a team with a better free kick taker, or a willingness to use those free kicks to create chances for players inside the box, the team will need to avoid giving away so many free shots. Those fouls also led to four players picking up yellow cards, including two fullbacks and two central midfielders, positions where the limits of a yellow can be detrimental to their influence on a game. Still, the defense allowed 12 total shots, but only six of those from inside the box, and only two that were on target.
Beyond the result, Tacoma head coach Chris Little will take some pride in how his team built on their first game back. The team puts a particular focus on two types of players: young players, mostly products of the Sounders Academy, and what could be called “second chance” players. That second group includes guys like Chino Pérez, who for a second game in a row provided a major spark off of the bench. Playing from the wing after entering in the 63rd, Chino immediately made an impact with a goal, but his tireless running and smart pressing didn’t stop there. Pérez is making it readily apparent why NYCFC thought he was worth taking in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft.
Where young players are concerned, after moving into the starting XI in place of Collin Fernandez against Sacramento when the former Chicago Fire homegrown player picked up a knock, Sota Kitahara got the nod again alongside Jesse Daley in the middle of the park. Kitahara’s comfort on the ball and ability to handle pressure is an asset, and definitely impressive for a 17 year-old. Kitahara often dropped between the two centerbacks when Tacoma held possession to help distribute and protect the ball. He made some rough challenges and earned a yellow, but for a second game in a row he was a subtle standout player.
For at least a few hours, Tacoma find themselves at the top of Group A with 4 points. Reno 1868 FC, whose lone game so far was their 3-1 opening win over Tacoma, have 3 points and play Sacramento Republic FC on Sunday, July 19 at 6 PM. Tacoma’s next opportunity to gather more points will be a rematch with Reno on Thursday, July 23. The two teams will meet at Cheney Stadium at 7 PM, and you can watch on ESPN+.