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Defiance notebook: Halfway to the playoffs, with a game in hand

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Tacoma sit fourth in the Pacific with room to grow.

Defiance players with their victory salute after beating Oakland Roots 3-1.
Charis Wilson courtesy of Seattle Sounders and Tacoma Defiance

After a four-match unbeaten run at home, Tacoma Defiance jumped six spots to No. 11 in the USL Championship Power Rankings. They embark on a three-game road trip. Most of the league is at their halfway point. Wade Webber’s men are essentially there too, just a game away from that mark. At this not quite halfway point, Defiance are 4th in the Pacific Division with a 5-4-6, +0 record.

Cheney Stadium is Magic

Undefeated at home, one of just three teams in the USL Championship to hold that mark this late in the year (Phoenix Rising and El Paso Locomotive). The 2.25 points a per game at Cheney are only topped by one NWSL team (Portland Thorns), one MLS team (New England Revolution) four in the USL Championship (Phoenix, El Paso, Louisville City, and Tampa Bay Rowdies), and no USL League One team passes that mark.

Five-oh-and-three, with a +8 goal differential. An attitude that is their very brand permeates the team. They aren’t overwhelmed by the supposed giants, toppling San Diego and Oakland, stifling Sacramento.

A closeup photo of the statue of Ben Cheney at Cheney Stadium. The statue sits among a few of the original wood seats from the original stadium build. Dave Clark

The magic emanating from Ben Cheney isn’t limited to Defiance. OL Reign are 4-2-1, +6 in a run where they’ve outscored their past three opponents 9-1 winning each match. The Tacoma Rainiers have the best home record in the AAA West at 25-18. Even putting in the larger AAA East the Rainiers are only bested by 5 AAA sides.

Cheney, with all its history and 1950s Americana charms, is a magical place where teams and fans win.

Now, if the road form could match Defiance would be writing an epic saga.

More than a playoff chase, a home game chase... IF

Defiance have to find a way to at least be mediocre on the road. Because there are three teams in the Pacific that they are two points or fewer from owning the tie-breaker on (1st tie-breaker is head-to-head) and they have games in hand on everyone but Oakland.

If they earn just three points on the upcoming three-game road trip, a playoff appearance becomes likely. At four points, the full might of the Sound and Tahoma will show itself. The opportunity is in front of the players.

  • San Diego Loyal on Aug 14 at 7:30 pm PT
  • Orange County on Aug 20 at 7:00 pm PT
  • Oakland Roots on Aug 28 at 5:30 pm PT

While both Loyal and OCSC are ahead of Defiance in the standings, Tacoma has games in hand against the two SoCal sides. As those matches come forth, Webber’s men must perform. The Pacific is tight, not just 4-7 as the pure points show, but from all the way to the second spot thanks to Orange County’s recent struggles.

Pacific Division Advanced Metrics and Defiance Games In Hand

Teams xGD per match Home xGD Away xGD Home Remaining Away Remaining TAC pts versus Games in Hand
Teams xGD per match Home xGD Away xGD Home Remaining Away Remaining TAC pts versus Games in Hand
Phoenix Rising 0.94 1.49 0.40 8 8 0 of 3 1
Orange County SC 0.13 0.55 0.11 8 7 3 of 3 2
Tacoma Defiance 0.09 0.17 -0.44 8 9 null null
Sacremento Republic -0.16 -0.05 -0.28 8 8 4 of 6 1
Los Dos -0.18 0.16 -0.66 6 9 5 of 9 2
Las Vegas Lights -0.19 0.36 -0.73 8 8 0 of 6 1
San Diego Loyal -0.37 0.17 -0.86 8 7 6 of 6 2
Oakland Roots -0.73 -0.69 -0.75 5 8 3 of 3 -2
P
Expected Goals Data from American Soccer Analysis

Everyone Must Defend

This is one of the organizational mantras. It doesn’t matter if you are a DP forward capable of winning the Golden Boot, a winger, a hot prospect, or a veteran brought in for lockerroom stability — you are expected to defend. That’s part of Schmetzer’s core philosophy as much as having a strong relationship with fans. He speaks of duels and effort as frequently as he does being a steward.

There is no difference on Defiance.

Sam Adeniran earned a place in the USL Championship Team of the Week bench as a forward not because of his two goals (a freakish accident and a penalty finish), but because in both matches he was a defensive catalyst that forced Sacramento and Oakland into uncomfortable passes. When your on-the-verge of an MLS contract forward is defending with vigor, you know it is a core philosophy that carries into every band on the pitch.

Who has next?

Even if Tacoma weren’t going on their Cheneyville-powered run, Webber’s coaching performance would be considered strong by Lagerwey-Schmetzer. The USL side produced two full MLS contracts early in the year (AB Cissoko and Reed Baker-Whiting).

During the bleakest moments of the Seattle Sounders’ injury crisis, Defiance players stepped up on short-term contracts. Obed Vargas, Alex Villanueva, Juan Alvarez, and Adeniran all earned a bit of that MLS cash and that win in Austin during their 144 combined MLS minutes. This wave stretches from 15-at-the-time Obed to Adeniran’s unpolished 22.

Samuel Adeniran

Samuel Adeniran shoots against Oakland Roots
Charis Wilson courtesy of Seattle Sounders and Tacoma Defiance

Adeniran, Obed Vargas, and Alex Villanueva have used up their short-term contract availability. Sam offers an energetic forward who stretches lines and has recently demonstrated a willingness to defend as expected. He makes sense on an MLS roster, even if just for a short cameo to help close out wins.

Obed Vargas

The two-way central midfielder has played as the deep and attacking mid in the Defiance 3-4-3. Still raw, Obed showed promise in his short MLS stint. A classic Schmetzer type he works and works and works on both sides of the ball.

Issa Rayyan

On the defensive side, the player most ready is Issa Rayyan. Able to contribute in the attack via strong dribbling skills Rayyan’s on-ball defense has improved this year. If Seattle wants a backup right back they would do well to sign him. They would almost certainly need to compensate Philadelphia, but they should do so. He’s a quality player who is a suitable backup at a position without one.

What about those loandowns?

Reed Baker-Whiting

Reed Baker-Whiting slips through the Sacramento Republic defense.
Charis Wilson courtesy of Seattle Sounders and Tacoma Defiance

RBW shifted into attacking roles because he just understands tactical space better than is reasonable in a 16-year-old. With Tacoma, he’s refining that skill. His flick-on headers are a wonder to observe, and that may be his best pass for danger right now.

Andrew Thomas

He’s the goalkeeper of the future. A strong shot-stopper who can start attacks with throws that go well into the attacking half and who is willing to play with the ball at his feet. He has three clean sheets in just seven appearances. That’s good enough for 6th most clean sheets in the West. If he meets the minimum number of starts he’ll be on the conversation for the Golden Glove (current GAA is 0.57) and Keeper of the Year.

Loanaways

Now with five players loaned out to four clubs, the Sounders org is using this option more than ever before. It helps them maintain MLS rights to a player while that player gets more playing time and a new set of voices to help the player craft their game.

Trey Muse

The regular starter for San Diego Loyal, Muse is third in the league for total saves with 55. With no clean sheets this year it seems that many teams are taking the tactic of peppering Trey with shots as he’s a good shot-stopper but tends to give up a fair number of rebounds.

Shandon Hopeau

He last made an appearance on July 17, playing four minutes in a 3-2 win. Since that appearance, he’s only made the bench once. In San Antonio FC’s last match he didn't make the bench, and was also not on the injury report.

Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez

One of two players who was sent on loan to Pinzgau Saalfelden of the Austrian third-division, AOC already has a goal. Racking up sub minutes as a goal-dangerous player, he might be regaining his scoring knack.

Sota Kitahara

At the time of his loan to Pinzgau, Kitahara was the most used player on Defiance. Now he’s rapidly turned into a rotational player with regular starts. If Sota continues his learning curve, he’ll be a regular for them by the winter break when he’s due to return to Tacoma.

Azriel Gonzalez

Now on loan to FC Edmonton, Gonzalez played almost forty minutes in his first match eligible for Alan Koch’s Eddies. The match ended 0-0.

Other MLS rights controlled players

  • Sam Rogers — After 8 starts and 4 sub appearances with OKC Energy Rogers is now on loan to HamKam of the Norwegian second division. HamKam are in middle of a promotion chase currently leading the pack, but only five points separate spots 1 through 5. The top two move up at the end of the season and the next four competing to be the third promoted side. Sam has yet to play.
  • Blake Malone — On loan to Union Omaha from Orange County SC, Malone is frequently on the bench, but rarely gets minutes. He has just two appearances for four minutes this season.
  • TJ Bush — Bush signed with Charlotte Independence of the USL Championship last month. He’s made the bench once, and is one of four keepers on their roster.