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Exit interviews, part Tacoma: The Defiance

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The fourth part of the Exit Interview series focuses on the 16 Tacoma Defiance players that didn't get a call to the First Team in 2021.

Charis Wilson courtesy of Seattle Sounders and Tacoma Defiance

With their best year since 2015, Tacoma Defiance had a few standout players. Two earned contracts with Seattle Sounders essentially right out of preseason and five others saw extreme hardship call-ups to the oft-injured first team. The remaining talent, for the most part, showed progression in their development curves, as should be expected by a team that missed the playoffs by two points.

The players that made the bench, or more, with the Sounders can be seen over in part one. Here, we will look at the other 16 players who suited up for the Defiance this year.

Carlos Anguiano

One stat that matters: Tied for the team lead with 38 chances created, despite being a holding mid.

Quick analysis: Tacoma’s best defensive midfielder over the course of their season, Anguiano showed an ability to control the pace of play and clog the midfield just enough for Defiance centerbacks to look strong when set.

Outlook: Anguiano showed an ability to play larger than his size and age. He should be a USL Championship level, or greater, player for several more years.

Cody Baker

One stat that matters: Started five of the last six Defiance matches, unseating more experienced options at right wingback.

Quick analysis: Answered all the questions asked about what position he would claim as his own, converting from undersized centerback to wingback. Demonstrated the speed necessary to play along the touchline and completed 33% of his crosses, best among the wingbacks on Tacoma’s roster.

Outlook: Still just 17, the organization clearly sees a future for the player who came through the Academy. Cody is likely the starter for Tacoma next year.

Tom Brewitt

One stat that matters: His 2,418 minutes were more than all but two other players (Yeimar and JP) in the organization for league play.

Quick analysis: A sturdy stabilizing force that added maturity to Defiance’s defense. Tom showed an ability to step up a line and play as a purely defensive mid twice. Maybe lacking a bit of lateral movement, Brewitt will never lose a tackle for lack of effort or timing. Fiercely defends his team and leads as one of the captains.

Outlook: Now with dual citizenship, Brewitt should be able to find a place in the American pro game, either as an MLS replacement level player or with an independent USL side.

Alec Diaz

One stat that matters: Started twice for the Puerto Rico national team, earning 167 total minutes of senior level play, including appearances in World Cup Qualifiers.

Quick analysis: Not yet 20, Diaz still showed some of the poaching quality that defines his game, but couldn’t adapt to outside play nor match Sam Adeniran’s potency from the center. Looked his best when in the middle of the three-forward set flanked by Adeniran and Ray Serrano.

Outlook: After a down year in the scoring department, Diaz likely gets a chance outside of the organization with a team that sees his strong 2020 as closer to his true talent level.

Azriel Gonzalez

One stat that matters: Five goals and three assists while on loan to FC Edmonton was the best attacking performance by a Sounders organizational loanee ever.

Quick analysis: Unable to regularly crack the starting lineup on either wing with Tacoma, the once-youngest signing in the organization needed a new place to ply his trade at age 20. Once loaned to Edmonton, Azriel exploded out of the gate, showing exactly why he was a highly rated prospect. A strong ball-control wide player who can slip through defenses or launch shots from distance, the Vegas-born attacker is Victor Rodriguez lite.

Outlook: That Edmonton performance (0.66 G+A/90) showed that Gonzalez has a lot to offer some team, somewhere.

Joe Hafferty

One stat that matters: Hafferty led Defiance in passing accuracy in the opponent’s half (80.3%), and was the worst on Defiance at passing accuracy in his team’s own half (68.3%).

Quick analysis: One of two utility defenders on the squad, Hafferty didn’t have the foot speed to contribute to the attack when playing wingback. His greatest strengths were in shadowing opposing wide players and forcing them even wider, or just cutting them off from the passing network of the opposing side.

Outlook: As a late signing, both in age and during the season, Hafferty probably gets another year to fill the utility defender role.

Christian Herrera

One stat that matters: Herrera started every match of the seven-game losing streak, giving up 3 goals on four occasions.

Quick analysis: Herrera is solid at playing with the ball at his feet, reaction saves and command. It is rare that a team will lose because of him, but it’s also rare that they win because of his play. A giant, it is tough to beat him wide and his presence in the box on set-pieces changes other teams’ approaches on free kicks and corners.

Outlook: Any lower division team that needs a backup keeper will have room for Herrera — there’s a reason he’s played for seven different clubs by age 24. Seattle is unlikely to carry six keepers in 2022, which may crowd out the former Lagerwey/Waibel RSL product.

Eric Kinzner

One stat that matters: On May 13, 2021 the city of Tacoma saw its first native son start for Defiance. He remains the only player from the City of Destiny to play pro soccer for his hometown in the modern era.

Quick analysis: As the youngest centerback signing in the organization’s history, Eric showed promise without being quite ready. Studying under fellow CBs Mueller, Brewitt, and Ragen, as well as a head coach who played as a CB, should be a great education. Not only was the Tacoman challenged as a very young defender, he was learning a new system. Kinzner was strong on the ball in general, but made a few errors that were costly.

Outlook: Teenage centerbacks are always going to take time to develop. His booming left foot should earn Kinzner another two years to show that he has what it takes to step onto larger stages.

Sota Kitahara

One stat that matters: Played in 17 of 19 regular season matches while on loan to FC Pinzgau Saalfelden, starting 13 of them.

Quick analysis: Hidden over the mountains and across the seas, Kitahara’s play in the Austrian regional league was hard to follow. Reports from play there are that Sota’s versatility continued to wow coaches. At right back he had a match with three assists. Already back in the US and practicing with the First Team as soon as his loan ended.

Outlook: The best non-attacking loan in the organization’s history, Sota demonstrated that he can succeed as a DM or RWB. He should be a large part of Defiance’s core in 2022.

Randy Mendoza

One stat that matters: Mendoza’s 1.42 points per match were tied for the highest ppm among Tacoma’s players with more than 8 appearances.

Quick analysis: Randy is capable of playing as undersized centerback, flat fullback, or more defensive wingback. He will never retreat from a tackle, and never, ever, give up on a play. He matches that intensity with actual results (3rd on Defiance in tackles, 4th for tackles won), and positions well in attack in order to be a strong outlet, but will need to pass better to be more than a defense-first player.

Outlook: The most important thing is that Mendoza’s jaw heals. When that’s over a USL Championship team will be lucky to have the fiercest defender in the league.

Taylor Mueller

One stat that matters: More shutouts as an outfield player than any other in USL Championship history.

Quick analysis: Always the captain, Mueller’s final year of play was a reminder of how strong he was throughout his 20,000+ pro minutes. In an alternate history where Defiance make the playoffs, Taylor probably gets a bit of league recognition as one of the best defenders of 2021.

Outlook: Retired — ready to climb mountains with his dog and raise a family with his wife.

Jackson Ragen

One stat that matters: Second or third in most major defensive categories despite being 11th on the team in minutes.

Quick analysis: The Tower of Power offered Tacoma a target in dead ball situations like they’ve never had before. Possibly the largest player to ever suit up for the club, Jackson showed that he was capable of playing with the ball at his feet like a modern centerback, and was capable of charging forth into the attacking half. He’s solid defensively and already showing that he could be a capable MLS reserve.

Outlook: Ragen demonstrated the ability to be a useful player at the MLS level and a dominant one in the lower pro leagues. His HGP rights are in flux as he was drafted by Chicago.

Issa Rayyan

One stat that matters: Tacoma went 4-2-3, +3 in Rayyan’s starts, the best record among the five players that started at right wingback throughout the season.

Quick analysis: A driving player with the ball at his feet, Issa is capable of controlling an attack even from deep positions. He must find ways for his final pass or shot to be more decisive in the the final sixth of the pitch. He’s still learning defense, and generally making up for errors by being one of the two fastest players on the squad (Serrano the other).

Outlook: The expected dramatic expansion in pro opportunities should help Rayyan more than any other player on this roster. Clearly a capable starter, the former YNT regular is only 21 and showed glimpses of game-changing ability.

Danny Robles

One stat that matters: Fourth on the squad for chances created and only 14th for minutes played, Robles is still a creator searching for a role.

Quick analysis: No player was more impacted by the change to the 3-4-3. No longer needing a CAM, Wade Webber had to find new ways to use Danny. Most of his minutes came as a defensive mid, where lateral speed was an issue, but there were still glimpses of the vision and ball control that earned the 19-year-old a contract back in 2018.

Outlook: The conversion to defensive mid could prolong Robles’ career, as the deep-lying playmaker role fits him if he can be quicker at reading the passing lanes against him.

Ray Serrano

One stat that matters: Serrano’s six assists were the second-best single season total in S2/Defiance history.

Quick analysis: The cliché about development is that it’s not linear, but when one graphs Ray’s playing time, shots, and goals you see a line that’s basically at a 45-degree angle. Every year Serrano has improved and added something to his all-motor, great speed game. In 2021 he added two things — great passing the resulted in six assists and the ability to play as a wingback.

Outlook: Cementing himself as a potential right-sided utility guy, Serrano should be expected to be in Sounders preseason. In 2022 he’ll either be a star in Tacoma’s league or bouncing between MLS and whatever that new league is called.

Marlon Vargas

One stat that matters: A hattie of assists in a 3-2 win against LA Galaxy II.

Quick analysis: Vargas operates best between lines with space to think. He reads space well and can change games with the pass before the assist, and is a strong connector.

Outlook: Now with a call to the full El Salvador national team, Marlon should be able to claim a regular starting role in lower division soccer for 2022 and a substantial career after that.