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Pacific Division preview: Tacoma Defiance

The scoop on Washington State’s USL Championship team.

Courtesy of Republic FC

The 2021 USL Championship season will kick off for Sacramento Republic FC in a week, so we’re previewing all of their main foes for the season ahead. Today’s team is Tacoma Defiance and I’ve drafted in an expert, Dave Clark of Defiance broadcasting fame and also SB Nation’s Seattle-area soccer site, Sounder at Heart, to preview the northernmost Pacific Division side this year. Huge thanks to Dave for his expertise in gearing up for the season.

Notable players in/out:

In: Center mid Carlos Anguiano from Timbers 2, goalkeeper Christian Herrera from Oakland Roots, right back/right wing Issa Rayyan from Union 2, forward/right wing Samuel Adeniran from SV Atlas Delmenhorst in Germany

Out: Left back Nick Hinds to Nashville SC, defensive mid Jesse Daley to Brisbane Roar, center back Sam Rogers to OKC Energy, center mid Collin Fernandez to Austin Bold

Tell us a bit about the new head coach

After three seasons as Defiance’s assistant coach, Wade Webber is now in charge. Webber was previously the head coach of the elder Sounders Academy team and Thomas Jefferson High School. The former MLS center back played for the A-League Sounders winning three Cups in three years, Dallas Burn, the New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers (RIP), and the Miami Fusion (RIP, again).

Wade is not hesitant to share his passions for Tolkien, hard tackles, and his absolute love for the people of the Sound. Simultaneously studious and hard nosed defender, he expects victory. His experience working alongside the players from within the org as both professionals and within the Academy should help his transition, and may even spur a return to the playoffs for the first time since S2’s launch season back in 2015.

The balance between development and results seems to have shifted year to year for Tacoma. What’s the sense of how the team is approaching that balance for 2021?

With six veteran signings this year it may appear that the mold has shifted, but that’s only because they lost so much talent to Seattle (seven on the Sounders roster started with Defiance) and a few others around MLS, USL, and elsewhere. The veterans are like restocking the shelves while the young talents that won the 2019 GA Cup now have 3 pro years under their belts, and yet, are still teenagers. The signings from outside the org don’t last as long, but when they hit they are vital cogs on sides in MLS Cup (Nouhou, Delem). None of the youth have had that impact yet, though Josh Atencio may finally break through that barrier. As many as four could sign with Sounders this season, and two on the roster right now may not even make it to the Defiance home opener on May 13th before inking an MLS contract.

If there’s a player or two you think is in line for a big season with Defiance, who is it and why?

I have one eye on Alec Diaz. He was a top 10 performing (g+a/90) USL-C forward in 2020, and the only teenager on that list. He’s turned into quite a poacher, with hints of Raul Ruidiaz in his game. His foot is a quick shot and he’s a low touch personality who stays active all match whether or not the ball finds him.

The other is dynamic center back Abdoulaye Cissoko. A towering presence out of Parisian footballing suburb Les Ulis, France AB could wind up with an MLS contract any day. He loves to get forward, and has the mobility to be a traditional right back and the lateral movement to be a defensive midfielder. Cissoko is a joy to watch play defense.

We saw with Tacoma in 2020 that they had some very good games, but had two really tough opponents overall in the group in Sacramento and Reno. Are they closer to breaking through to getting a playoff spot this year?

With it looking like fringe talent from the Sounders being able to play down in Tacoma more like they did in the Before Times, that late 2019 surge may be able to be repeated. The biggest reason it will not happen is that Defiance cannot just beat on T2 anymore. They will have to take points from around the Pacific (also Bold, Switchbacks, Monarchs, and New Mexico).

If Alec Diaz can break out and the team plays like the squad that’s been together for more than 3 years rather than the squad that is less than 21 (and that counts old man Mueller) there may be magic at Cheney Stadium.

What are your general thoughts about the Pacific Division for the 2021 season?

From top to bottom, it’s the best division in the USL Championship. With powerhouses like Phoenix, Orange County, Sacramento, and San Diego; one of the best deuces in LA; an intriguing Roots side that made the finals at their level last year; and two intriguing twos that could break through in any year the Pacific is going to be a thrill ride. Chaos shall reign and at least one of those top four will fall apart for no reason whatsoever, and two of the expected also-rans fight for the final playoff spot.

Games against Sac Republic in 2021:

  • Aug. 5: at Tacoma Defiance
  • Sept. 22: at Tacoma Defiance
  • Oct. 2: at Sac Republic
  • Oct. 17: at Sac Republic

What do you think? Leave a comment below.