In a clash of bodies at midfield two men go from playing soccer, the ultimate team game, to a moment of man versus man. The two swashbucklers step out of the fray, action around them momentarily meaningless. There’s just one ball and these men are not going to share it.
These are the moments when Tacoma’s Collin Fernandez makes his presence known. Over his past three seasons with Phoenix Rising and St. Louis FC he won 54% of his 568 duels, that’s about 12.5 duels per 90 minutes. The only Defiance regular that beats that per match average is Jesse Daley with 13.4.
Fernandez is 22 and entering his sixth professional season. In 2014 he signed as a Homegrown Player with the Chicago Fire. Also signing with the Fire as an HGP in 2014? Seattle Sounder, and MLS Cup Champion Harry Shipp. Collin is excited to get back in touch with two men who helped him early in his career.
“I shared the locker room with some of the guys on the First Team here when we were in Chicago – Harry Shipp and Joevin Jones. Now, to see them here and succeeding? It really makes me happy.”
Shipp, Jones, and Defiance teammate Jesse Daley will help Fernandez learn about his latest team and city.
Collin earned his first pro minutes in 2015 with the Fire in MLS and Louisville City in USL action. Since that first year he’s also played with St. Louis, Tulsa, and Phoenix. His age 19 year with Tulsa was when he broke out – earning a spot on the USL’s 20 under 20 that season while playing 1,929 minutes. His promise became a well-honed blade.
His burst forward from prospect to performer demonstrated that when hype meets the training ground grind great things happen. That season earned him a spot with Phoenix Rising in 2018. As the third central midfielder, he helped lift Rising to third in the West while playing 315 of 320 available minutes in a playoff run that came up just short in a finals loss to Louisville City.
“It was cool. Being part of a winning club is always important. It’s always a great experience. Being there for that time was something special, and something I will never forget.”
There are times when a swashbuckler learns his blade isn’t quite sharp enough, that his footwork isn’t quite ready. With Rising in 2019, Fernandez’ usage faded a tiny bit. He returned to St. Louis midseason.
This year is about reawakening promise. He’s on his sixth team, in his sixth season. Fernandez is a wisened 22 years old, a veteran with more professional minutes than all but two Defiance players (Mueller, Hopeau). He’s seen things – struggles, success, loyalty to a city, and has a drive to succeed.
The attitude and system of the Sounders organization is why he chose to be part of the Tacoma project. Successes of players like Justin Dhillon, Jordy Delem, and Nouhou show a path he can follow.
“I spoke to Chris about the philosophy here and what they are about as a club and a team. It’s something that intrigued me. I want to be a part of it. That has everything to do with it – the club, the people, and the environment for me to get better as a player and a person.”
A resurgent Fernandez, with his sharp blade and quick wit, will win first balls and second balls in the midfield against most challengers. Coach Little, and Sounders Coach Schmetzer, want a squad that aggressively pursues each loose ball. Collin’s done that. It’s who he is.
Now he’s Defiantly Tacoma, and ready for the fray of the seas of 2020.