You now have plans during the international break. On Sunday at 4 PM PT at Starfire Sports, Tacoma Defiance can win the West and maybe even all of MLS Next Pro. Wade Webber’s side has dominated the league so much that their goal differential is the sum of the second and third best teams in the West.
With one more point than St. Louis City SC 2 earn in the final week of the regular-season, Defiance will take the West. If they win and Columbus Crew 2 lose, Defiance win the whole damn league. There is no reasonable scenario where Defiance finish below 2nd in the West as they own the goal difference tie-breaker by a massive advantage of 34-19 on North Texas and 34-15 on Houston Dynamo 2.
Who’s hot for Defiance?
Marlon Vargas, who was suspended for the win over ‘Caps 2, has clearly levelled up his play. He’s now capable of playing an 8, 10, wing and even 6 while being a scoring threat and assisting. The league only lists primary assists, so he may look a bit weak there, but his pass-before-the-pass skill has long been strong. This season his defense and scoring knack have truly come together.
He’s tied for 6th in goals scored with 12 and tied for 5th in assists with 6. Most of his advance metrics do not stand out, except for his dribbling, which is a powerful 3rd by G+.
Marlon deserves a look from Seattle next year and if his home club doesn’t want him he’ll be able to play in MLS for a midtable team or better.
Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez cooled down in the box scores, but his xG+xA is 9th in the league. His understanding of technique is stronger than ever. What has been most impressive is that he now defends like he knows his career will require it.
Who else can make the step up to USL Championship or MLS?
Randy Mendoza and Fito Ovalle
These two veterans of the lower division have both shown that they are driven to win. Mendoza is the most frequent captain and always centers his team. Webber regularly credits Ovalle with a toughness and mental strength necessary for teams to win at any level.
Both Randy and Fito are the types that an organization that desires victory should have around. Grinders are always necessary.
Mendoza is a left back, left centerback, left wingback, right back guy.
Ovalle is a defensive mid who can play as a shuttler or a wide mid.
There’s a lot of teen youth on the squad. Most have failed to earn time over the veterans (who are also pretty young). Baker has beaten out Joe Hafferty fairly regularly. The one-time centerback is pretty clearly now a wingback, even in even-back sets. He gets forward better than any current Defiance fullback. Baker is solid at early crosses and looks to drive centrally on dribbles. He’s not a cutback pass threat, yet.
Fans should expect Cody to be in Sounders training camp for 2023 and he’ll probably be signed.
What about the other MLS guys playing down?
Best of that regular bunch has been Reed Baker-Whiting, who is still a man without a regular position. As a defensive winger or 8, RBW has been the strongest. His understanding of space is incredible. Whether defending or eating up acreage through off-ball movement Reed has the observational smarts and work ethic that will always attract attention.
If he adds a better passing tree, confident dribble or shot to his game he’ll make a lot of money and play a long time.
What’s up with the stadium?
Starfire Stadium hosted all but two home games this year and should be expected to host the playoff games too (remember Defiance will get at least one home game and could get three).
All monies from tickets go to the RAVE Foundation. The most recent mini-pitch built by the RAVE Foundation was at Larchmont Elementary in Tacoma and built in partnership with OL Reign.
There remains no official word nor rumor about any other stadium at this time.
What’s up with the broadcasts?
They’re still mostly that single automated camera that thinks keeper gloves are the ball once in a while — this is why you should watch this talented winning team play at Starfire.
When MLS and Apple announced the new streaming deal word was that Apple will carry Next Pro as well as MLS matches. This should help, because Apple is more likely to demand additional cameras and replays.