Bad camera angles, empty stadiums, opponents that didn’t exist until they were forced into them – MLS Next Pro has issues. Tacoma Defiance is not one of those issues. The team is good, even excellent at the level. Wade Webber’s team leads its division and is third in the West with a 6-1-1 record at home and a goal differential of 7-4-3 (+3), +19 (tops of the league) over the year. Earning two points per game, only Crew2, North Texas of the highly touted Dallas system, and pre-MLS team St Louis are better at the midpoint.
Who fueled Defiance’s charge towards dominance? In short, their success is largely thanks to Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez on loan from the Seattle Sounders and Defiance direct signing Marlon Vargas. Marlon, the lesser-known but older Vargas in the organization, tore through opponents in June with 4 goals and 3 assists in 322 minutes.
He’s no longer a young boy just happy to be out in the field trying to do stunts. He is constantly dangerous for goals, whether he plays in 6s, 8s, 10s or on the wing.
Webber saw some growth in Marlon’s game. “He’s flexible positionally and when he has the ball he’s able to do the unexpected,” Wade told Sounder at Heart. The unexpected saw Marlon nearly double his professional goal tally heading into this fifth professional year. He has 7 goals in total. He had 4 in a year.
“Marlon understands how we want to play and improves those around him. He’s not a robot, though… he’s just doing what he’s programmed to do. He’s trying to move into the appropriate space, not always the expected space.
What it does when it’s deep is smooth. It slips and dives, twists. There is a subtlety when it’s a 6/8. Marlon always looks at space as an attacker, something to capture, to control. Then he leaps forward, charging into the attack. Reckless? Maybe. Pointed with a goal? Absolutely.
Vargas also became a leader. Ask him his age and he beams. He’s a veteran now, while he’s still young. He’s seen stuff – blowouts, comebacks, home stands that went right, road trips that went wrong. Wearing the armband, he is a young avenger. The old captains are gone. Now it’s Mendoza and Vargas, two much younger than in the past. It’s the Defiants now.
Every skill Vargas has shown this year translates into a long-term career. It may not be with Seattle long term, but Seattle is where he started. He will carry the green and black with him forever. In 2023, a tired and young Marlon Vargas will have stories of Wild Horse Pass, Cheney, Starfire, Hillsboro – and he will have a long future, because May and June 2022 have shown that all this heartbreak and struggle shapes a man. and creates a captain.
News and notes
Brief topics related to Defiance and other Sounders perspectives.
Webber started building Georgi Minoungou before the start of the month, but it was in June that Minoungou’s ball work started showing up in games. Georgi has a delicate touch with strong dribbling skills and good vision. He looks for assists that break the lines and uses his large frame and space to create mismatches. An impressive talent in his first fully professional year, Minoungou had three assists in June.
The best of the rest of the new direct signings
The two centre-backs signed from the MLS draft look solid and stable. While none are on the level of Cissoko or Ragen (yet), they are above Next Pro level defensively. In my eyes, the better of the two is Achille Robin, the former Husky and Bowling Green Falcon. Robin is a capable dribbler and has a Ragen-esque skill set (yes, Ragen is good enough to be comp now). Hal Uderitz is a solid defender with a decent long ball.
Prospects on loan
The good news is that Villanueva, who caught the eye of two MLS teams this offseason, is a frequent starter (17 starts, 1 sub) with Orange County SC. The bad news is that the defending champions are now bad.
Alex has only had one assist this year, probably a sign of OCSC’s struggles more than any of his own. He is still a capable winger who plays in a full-back system. Orange County has had enough injuries to play DM and even CB – not great for the 19-year-old in his fifth professional season. Seattle owns his MLS rights and is out of contract at the end of the year.
Serrano may be stalling. The move to Louisville City FC was supposed to put him in an environment that trusts teenagers and sells them successfully. But, Lou City is stacked rear right, where Ray was exceptional last season, so in 22 he was mostly bench striker. Serrano has 5 starts and 6 appearances in the subs for 2 goals and no assists this year in USL-C play and is a big part of City making this run to the Open Cup knockout stages. Seattle holds his rights in MLS, but he is out of contract at the end of the season, his 5th at just 20 years old.
Adeniran quickly integrated into the league-leading San Antonio FC squad, usually playing under or next to former Sounder Justin Dhillon. Slammin’ Sam already has 5 appearances (all starts), with 2 goals in 381 minutes, and he also forced an own goal. It’s better than his 2 goals and his assist in 593 minutes with Defiance. Even though his peak is as a quad-A (that’s baseball talk for a player who swings between majors and minors), he’s very good and can help both the USL-C team and the USL-C team. MLS team he’s with. If he becomes a coach at San Antonio and can take steps similar to those he made in 2021, he will be a 3rd striker/4th winger in MLS in 23.
People keep asking, but there’s really no news. Crowds are smaller at Starfire Stadium than they were at Cheney Stadium during the pandemic restrictions. Part of it may be downgrading, part of it may be lack of marketing – whatever the reason, Defiance has always been more popular in Tacoma than Defiance or S2 are/were in Tukwila, beyond that first year. Whatever the future holds for a D3 pro team that is clearly in a reserve league, fans will need something beyond football to convince them to attend regularly.
- Marlon Vargas – Among direct signings at Defiance, no one has had a better year. Heck, he’s probably one of the top 15 players in the league right now. If Seattle loses two more 8s and/or wingers, they can sign the 21-year-old.
- Achille Robin – He’s CB’s most MLS ready, but that doesn’t mean he’s close. Schmetzer has enough options at CB that even with Yeimar and Arreaga out, Robin didn’t get a short call even though there was a short bench.
- Joe Hafferty – It’s hard to tell who is the best fullback right now. Baker, Mendoza and Hafferty could all make a claim, but my gut says Hafferty would get the emergency green light, which he did for the CCL in early 2022.
- Randy Mendoza – Mendoza is the most frequent captain and a defensive mainstay who can be the Nouhou of the lower divisions, but he’s too old for a short-term call-up. For Seattle to sign him, they would have to have a major injury crisis or see more of the Artist on offense.