Just over a month into the MLS Next Pro season a few things are starting to sort themselves out. Tacoma Defiance are 2-2-2 (1), +5. They sit sixth in the West, just below the playoff line at the quarter pole.
AOC is on top of the league
Winning the April Player of the Month wasn’t a surprise. Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez is the golden boot leader. People love goal scorers and ‘Fonz is scoring goals. He has six goals now, matching his career high.
“I’m super motivated this year. I started off well and I can’t wait to continue in the games left. Hopefully there’s 20 more goals,” he told Sounder at Heart with a smile after his last match.
Paul Rothrock, former Sounders Academy player, was one of the other finalists for Player of the Month. Rothrock has 3 goals and 3 assists with TFCII.
Raúl shares the love
One way you can see the clear integration between First Team, Defiance, and Academy is the way that Raúl Ruidíaz celebrates goals. A couple times a year he seeks out the future of the club to share his joy with. Doing so during the CCL win on Wednesday night wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be his last. Four of the six from that 2021 celebration are now Sounders.
Who knows what the future will bring for the Defiance men who witnessed history, thanks to Raúl they were part of it.
They’re good in Next Pro, but not great
Defiance are better than their record. Part of the reason they aren’t as good as their strong xGD (7th in the league) is because of the bonus points available for shootouts. Another reason is because they aren’t doing well on the road. Travel in Next Pro is longer than this group has had to deal with since 2019. For players this young, the Before Times was ten percent of their lives.
Wade Webber’s men crushed the unbeaten Dynamo2 and struggled against Quakes2 and St. Louis II. That up-and-down nature is typical for MLS2 teams, no matter which league they are in.
Defiance will need to do two things to make the playoffs — be average on the road and have consistency form the keeper and two CBs. There’s been a lot of rotation in that defensive core.
Four that can help Sounders in Open Cup on May 11
There will be an extreme need for heavy rotation for the Sounders match at Dallas and there’s no reason to think that the players who when 60+ minutes in winning Concacaf are going to open the Open Cup. Instead, a few Defiance players will need to come up, especially on the backline where the Sounders don’t have a lot of depth.
- Randy Mendoza — the left back is a steady defender who learned how to get forward effectively while recovering from facial fractures and surgery. He was 25 when the season started so can probably be called up on a short-term agreement.
- Joe Hafferty — the right back was probably the last cut from Sounders preseason camp, even making the bench for a CCL match earlier this year. He has three more potential short-term calls. Using one so Alex Roldan and Kelyn Rowe can get a break would make sense.
- Marlon Vargas — what if there was a former attacking phenom who somehow dropped back into a deeper role, thereby increasing his value to the organization? No, I’m not talking about Albert Rusnák. I’m talking about the other Vargas (no relation) on the team. He can play in three of four bands, centrally or wide. He won’t make mistakes that harm the team.
- Eric Kinzner — the left-footed centerback has an MLS body and an MLS left foot already. Like most young CBs he’s still learning proper positioning and decision making, that’s fine. He’s three years younger than AB Cissoko and four years younger than Jackson Ragen. He’s played with both over the past couple years and one of them must start that Open Cup match.
There are others. Arguments could be made for the rest, but these are the ones who have played the most of the Defiance signings. A potential Open Cup lineup with those four signed would be something like;
Thomas; Mendoza, Kinzner, Cissoko/Ragen, Hafferty; Atencio/Leyva, M. Vargas; Baker-Whiting, O. Vargas, Adeniran; Ocampo-Chavez
They’re on the road at North Texas, the Dallas affiliate, playing at 2 PM PT on Mother’s Day (May 8). NTX is a strong side and formidable at home. There won’t be much help from the MLS talents playing down because they’ll be needed at Dallas on Saturday.
Tacoma returns to Starfire on May 15 at 7 PM PT. Crowds haven’t really turned out for Defiance there yet, but a summer evening with the intimacy of Starfire after the midweek Open Cup might see some decent attendance and money for the RAVE Foundation.
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