The committee is five of the ten most used Defiance players. Head coach Chris Little confers with them about calendaring, off- pitch behavioral rules, and to help guide the squad through their growth into full- time professional soccer players. He sees the now-veteran group as key to maintaining connections between staff and squad.
“They are an extension of the coaches to the team. They help manage the dressing room, but also give us insight into the habits and the culture with the coaches; and getting feedback for them.”
Each of the five players – Josh Atencio, Jesse Daley, Justin Dhillon, Shandon Hopeau, Sam Rogers – brings a different approach to leadership. Dhillon is the goal-scoring forward who rebuilt his career through success with Defiance and earned an MLS contract. He is a symbol of the goal-to-come and a future that is within the hands of every player to wear Defiance black.
Hopeau is the not-yet-21 year-old winger who already has nearly 80 professional appearances.
“Shandon is one of the veterans of the team. He’s got experience for his age. He has been around the league, so he has that experience for the guys. He leads by example with his work rate and his defending, which has obviously improved dramatically over the season.”
When Sam Rogers was out injured earlier in the year, Hopeau wore the armband. Rogers, like Hopeau, is just 20 but a long time student of the game of soccer. Sam is a mix of stoic and verbal leader. He commands his teammates, but approaches opponents in a conciliatory fashion, usually. When he approaches a referee or confrontation, it is to calm the spirit of the side.
Jesse Daley does not wear captain’s armband, and he certainly is not peaceful in his approach to the opposition. The Australian is full-throated in his love for his teammates and Defiance. His passion is never in question.
“He has this infectious enthusiasm and personality. It rubs off on the other players. His desire and competitiveness are valuable qualities that our young group really needs.”
Tacoma’s collection of talents includes eight teenagers. Josh Atencio is the lone teen in the leadership committee. The Academy product earned the captain’s armband of a pro squad at just 17. His coach sees that as an important test for one of his younger players.
“It’s important to give him that responsibility and see how he does with it. A lot of times Josh leads by example. He does things that are vocal. Or he shows a willingness to receive the ball and be brave to get it under pressure at the top of his own box, away from home, in front of 5,000 people. That’s not an easy thing to do. He’s brave to do that. He shows a grit and desire to do it. Those things rub off on the other players. He’s certainly a leader.”
Grit, defiant spirit, duty, responsibility, ambition – each of Tacoma’s leaders embody these values, but they also lean into one a bit more than other committee members do. Together they are captains and leaders. Combined they assure that Defiance never quits.