Tacoma Defiance are heading back to Tacoma this week. Tuesday night (7:00 PM PT, MLSNextPro.com) they are back at Cheney Stadium to face Portland Timbers 2. On Saturday, June 4 they play their second and final match of the season at 19th and Tyler, another night match (7:00 PM PT, MLSNextPro.com).
Head coach Wade Webber will not be there for the Tuesday game against T2. Stepping in will be longtime Sounder Michael Morris. Morris was first a camp instructor with the USL Sounders in 2000, was on the USL roster in 2007 and 2008, and was a coach at every academy level until joining the Defiance staff last season. Webber’s absence is for professional development.
Similar to Webber, Morris embraces the Sounders-Timbers rivalry.
“When the Timbers come to play us at home, they will absolutely suffer”
Michael Morris knows the Portland Timbers well. Puget Sound born and raised, like Webber, Morris first came to soccer by watching the Sounders. He’s coached every youth level the Seattle Sounders have been involved in. At the Academy level he only has one loss to the Timbers Academies.
When soccer practices and games resumed during the pandemic, one of the first games back to play was a visit to Portland by the Sounders U-17s. “We absolutely smashed them,” Morris remembers. On that team? now-Defiance right back Cody Baker. With the exception of the handful of players signed by Defiance this season, Morris has multiple years of experience coaching the the players on the matchday roster.
As a pro player, Morris played under Brian Schmetzer, part of the title winning team of 2007. Like all MLS Sounders, winning is a deep passion. He won at the USL level. He won at the Academy level. Facing Portland only amplifies that drive for victory in his first night as a pro head coach.
“Being able to work with some of the academy guys, they know we’ve tried to instill that culture that winning does matter. You hear that from Schmetzer that we have a culture of winning within the club, but winning against Portland definitely matters,” Morris said during the weekly Defiance press conference. “Having such a core group of Academy guys who are within our squad and also those that join us from the first team — that’s just something that we will leverage.”
Rebooted teams lack connective tissue from first team to second team to academies
Timbers 2 went on hiatus last season. They, like a few other deuces that played in the USL Championship, couldn’t justify the costs during a second season of pandemic attendance restrictions. Similar to Seattle, they also cut their U-19 team during the Academy reshuffling which also coincided with the height of pandemic restrictions.
While Webber and Morris wouldn’t speak specifically about T2’s reboot and connection from academy to MLS side, they both noted that throughout MLS Next Pro there are challenges. Many teams started with no foundation and are still learning the best way to help their big club.
“Sometimes the teams are at the mercy of what squad is going to be available for them on the weekend. It can be a little bit difficult to find clarity [about their playing styles],” Webber said. “Yeah, I’d say there are clubs that have a pretty good way of playing — San Jose does a pretty good job; in Colorado, up until our match against them, they’ve been playing a shape that mirrored their first team and tried to implement principles that were very similar to their first team. Ultimately, I think that’s where a lot of clubs are going to eventually move to, it just takes time.”
Tacoma Defiance have had that time and continuity. They’ll press at the front, look vertical quickly and then become a patient possession side. Their defense is stout. Schmetzer’s identity and ethos can be seen on the pitch at Starfire, or Cheney like this week.
Wade Webber at halfway point to USSF Pro license
Assistant coach Morris is taking over for Webber, because Webber is about halfway through the coursework for the highest license available from US Soccer. At the midpoint, his cohort of student-coaches are heading to Cincinnati to meet with national team staff, have some in-person time, and observe the USMNT.
Webber is thrilled to be a student again. He has multiple degrees, a teaching certificate, and a quest for knowledge. Being in this program helps him learn more about soccer.
“It’s been wonderful. The instructors — the guy that I’m working with directly came out for about a four or five day visit two weeks ago, prior to the Monarchs game — and you realize how important it is to acknowledge that nobody knows everything. We learn all the time, and the minute you think you’ve got it, you’re given clear evidence that you don’t — that you’ve never really have it. It’s about the process of doing something and then evaluating it and trying to get better at it.”
Much of the course is about process and concepts that are minute details, like the 11 principles of set pieces. There’s also a large leadership element to the coursework. The ability to manage throughout the roster, the matchday 20, and the XI. Keeping all of those parts working together is not just instinct. Leaders study each other and the ways other groups work together so they can bring those skills and talents to their group.
“There’s just a level of detail and professionalism from the instructors. It’s impressive.”
What’s going on with the team?
They’re pretty good, spending most weekends hovering around the red line. Marlon Vargas is a very good free 8 at the level, an aged leader at all of 21. He keeps the tempo going both offensively and defensively. The players playing down are familiar faces who know their teammates, the system, and are driven to earn more MLS time. Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez is scoring and Reed Baker-Whiting looks like the next Roldan, a player without a position whose knowledge of the game and willpower help him succeed.
Stuart Hawkins recently debuted and showed that the promise from the GA Cup might just be underselling his abilities as a possession centerback. Yes, he’s very young. He had one missed pass, his first of the game. There’s still a lot of room to develop.
There’s a smattering of others playing well enough that they’ll get contracts somewhere next year, but don’t have to earn one tomorrow to still be professionals.
Without consistency the team is earning 1.89 points per game (yes, with the shootout wins), is tied for the second-best attack, and the sixth-best defense. For the last four years at least three players signed to Defiance have earned an MLS contract.
The state of Defiance? It’s strong.
Time to make T2 suffer.