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The Defiant: Jesse Daley Moves On

No player captured the spirit of Tacoma more than midfielder Jesse Daley.

Jesse Daley stands ready to walk out with a youth club prior to a match at Cheney Stadium. Charis Wilson courtesy of Sounders FC

Some of the greatest players in the world ran the pitch at Cheney Stadium. Several hot prospects for future service with the US National Teams (men and women) polished themselves in Central Tacoma. Others labored and earned time, earned trophies.

But there are other Cheney Stadium soccer stories. Because soccer, like life, is not merely about the awards you win. Who you are inside is the key.

Over the past two-and-a-half years Jesse Daley went from promising out-of-town kid to the player who most thoroughly embodies the city of Tacoma and the values of Defiance. Forever he carries the Flag of Defiance and the Sound. He said as much in the Seattle Sounders announcement of his release.

“Three years ago this club welcomed a boy from Australia with open arms. Today as I say my goodbyes, I am so grateful for the opportunity that was given to me,” said Daley in the team release. “The hardest part about closing this chapter in my life is leaving behind so many people that I love and respect. I’ve been so lucky to live out my dream here in Seattle for the past three years. I’ve had the privilege to play with some incredible players, but more importantly work with the most incredible people. I’ve made friends for life and that’s what I take the most pride in. Every time I stepped onto the field I gave everything I had for this club. To everyone who has been there for the ride, thank you. It’s been real, Seattle.”

This is the end of his time with Sounders/Defiance, except in his spirit and soul. He will always have that.

Daley called Cheney Stadium his home pitch while in America — first playing with S2 in the Rave Green and then wearing the Black Ink of Defiance. That first season he was 6th in starts, 8th in minutes all while mostly playing as a defensive midfield. No one will talk about that time he slid to right back when no other players were available.

That may have been a bad moment on the pitch. It is also a great example of a player willing to do anything for their team. Because that’s who Jesse Daley is. He models team spirit and competition.

Assistant coach Wade Webber worked with Daley in all three seasons that Daley was in the organization. Like all of the coaching staff, Webber saw in Jesse a player who would teach the rather young S2/Defiance sides to never quit — ever.

“It’s been a privilege to work with him, for starters. He has been a model player for our youngest guys to work with. His attitude at training is hyper competitive. He holds himself and those around him accountable for their performances on and off the field. He is funny, honest, and kind, too — which you don’t always get with combative midfielders. Our young guys are much better for being with him these past two-plus years. His influence will continue despite his absence because of the standards he established.”

In that first year at 19th and Tyler he scored twice and assisted three other times. Twenty-eight teenagers made appearances on the squad. At 20 Daley was one of the ‘seasoned’ veterans. Only David Olsen, Calle Brown, and captain David Estrada were older and took the pitch in more than half of S2 matches that year.

Daley’s fire and spirit stuck out to 2018 S2 captain Estrada, now with New Mexico United.

“Jesse is an extremely competitive and hard working young man. I know he will succeed wherever he goes. He was a leader last year and I know his competitiveness pushed the younger players around him. He is ruthless on the field and that will serve him well wherever he goes. So happy for him,” Estrada told Sounder at Heart when finding out that Daley was leaving the organization where both players refined who they are.

It was under the banner of Tacoma Defiance that Jesse flourished. For the past two seasons he was part of the leadership team — a conduit between the full squad and Coach Chris Little. But Daley never wore the armband.

Joining him on that leadership team in 2019 were Josh Atencio, Justin Dhillon, Shandon Hopeau, and Sam Rogers. Atencio and Hopeau earned the call to the Rave Green in 2020. Dhillon inked his papers after a five-match scoring streak in 2019. In 2020 the newest participant in the leadership team is Taylor Mueller.

Justin and Jesse remain close after the forward join the Sounders. If you follow either on Instagram, that’s obvious. They are teammates, friends, and two Sounders from out of state who learned to love Puget Sound as home.

Daley and Dhillon celebrate a Dhillon’s 9.17 second goal in front of the interview backdrop at Cheney Stadium. Charis Wilson courtesy of Sounders FC

“In Jesse I have a best friend, a brother, and an incredible team mate. What Jesse brings to the field is something I consider to be extremely rare. It’s a leadership, energy, and passion that is so contagious it infects everyone on the team. He has this ability to change games and most importantly shift momentum. His desire to win is some of the greatest I have seen. Even in trainings, I love the guy but cannot stand being on the opposite team as him. He’ll do anything to win, argue with the ref, try and cheat the score, it doesn’t matter as long as he is the winner.”

Dhillon continued, speaking about his friend’s future, “I have the absolute utmost respect for him as a person and a player. He absolutely deserves this next opportunity and cannot wait to continue to follow his career moving forward. I expect a lot of great things from him and wherever he goes, his presence is impossible to miss and will always be difficult to replace.”

Daley is a hard tackler. His absence from Tacoma will be more apparent in his drive to win and his quick step to defend his XI during play. A defensive midfielder, mostly, the Australian nearly has as many cards as he does shots. Often matched up against the top players in the USL Championship, Daley wins the ball more than he loses it. He’s a premier tackler in this league, and for all the jokes made about his propensity for cards his spirit has toned down just enough to keep him on the pitch.

Daley will never be known as a goal-scorer. But when he does score, he scores bangers.


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Some of my favourites

A post shared by Jesse Daley (@jessedaley89) on

That first blast should have won Goal of the Week. No tap-ins for the Aussie. Just rockets from deep.

His value on the leadership team is not just because of his play on the field. He was a regular signing autographs and hanging with the kids postgame — back in the Before Times when that was possible.

The enthusiastic supporter of Puget Sound youth found ways to connect to this community beyond his actions on the pitch. He kneels and raises a fist prior to USL Championship matches. He advocates for justice for his Black teammates.

Jesse Daley is moving on. This will leavea a hole in the heart of Defiance.

Soul and spirit are not easily replaced. At the same time, every player on the squad can look to his move, or the move of Henry Wingo, and know that the Sounders organization is helping them towards a career in soccer — sorry, football, as Jesse would always remind me — with Puget Sound being part of them on whatever pitches they roam.

I wrote the first story on Sounder at Heart that mentioned Jesse Daley, and I guess that means I’ve just written the last story that will feature the midfielder who exhibited the spirit of Defiance more than any other.

Josh Atencio, Jesse Daley, and Antonee Burke look out towards the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Fernanda Irish courtesy of Tacoma Defiance

His attitude, leadership, and fellowship with everyone who has worn the black and green will be missed.

Know that you are Once, and Always a Sounder — and the Defiant spirit of our waters will be forever part of your story.

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