Eight of the 18 Seattle Sounders currently under contract played with Tacoma Defiance in 2019. Cheney Stadium’s greatest goalscorer is among the returning players. Justin Dhillon, Handwalla Bwana, Jordy Delem, and Gustav Svensson all had their options picked up this week.
Dhillon played 19 matches with Defiance, scoring 12 goals to set the single season record for the Sounders USL project. Justin earned his MLS opportunity in 2019 and his performances lifted Sounders FC to key wins on their way to a second place finish. Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer was impressed with the 24-year-old’s performance as a Sounder, even though he didn’t score.
“I go back to that game in Columbus when we didn’t have a ton of players. Nico scored that goal and we beat my good friend Caleb Porter, which was pretty good for me. He [Justin] made a contribution there. His flick on to Nico was pretty good. He made little contributions that you might not think is a lot, but that’s three points that helped us get to second. Well done to Justin and all the guys who helped us in those lean months in the summer.”
Tacoma will also be key to Trey Muse’s continued development. Former MLS goalkeeper and current Sounders President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey pointed out that goalkeepers develop more slowly than other positions. Schmetzer saw improvement from the Homegrown Player during the Defiance season.
“For Trey, I know he’s going to develop, but the kid is still young. I don’t want to push Trey too much into the spotlight because he’s not ready. When he’s ready, he will get his chance. Trey got better from when we first got him until the end of his season – he got better. The games down at Defiance were really good for Trey. That one save sequence he had [the quad save against New Mexico United] was fantastic. He will get better. Let’s not anoint him into the 18 yet.”
Muse started 21 matches with Tacoma Defiance in 2019, recording 3 clean sheets. Other young Homegrowns Handwalla Bwana, Danny Leyva, and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez will get more time in Tacoma too. Lagerwey thinks Bwana can take strong steps forward.
“[Bwana] is a good young player, very talented. He’s one of the guys that we need to work on his development through the system. We gotta get more out of him and we think he’s capable of it.”
Leyva and Ocampo-Chavez are on a fast track to development, a couple years ahead of where stars Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan were at this point in their career. Danny started 12 matches and Alfonso started 13, both while still just high schoolers.
“We did this intentionally. We said ‘can we jump start this and get them in two years earlier that we can speed up their development?’ There’s still reality of things like physical development – their bodies are going to change. Those kids are going to continue to grow and that’s going to impact them. These kids are still in high school. They have to get through that and accomplish those basic tasks and grow up. We are going to give them every possible resource to help them succeed – on the field, off the field, with their families, from a technical, from a video, from an emotional – they are going to have opportunities and we are going to support them. We are going to try to push this thing forward together.”
Two-time MLS Cup winning coach Brian Schmetzer wants to improve the integration of Tacoma Defiance into the practice schedule of his winning squad. With the First Team roster getting younger, Defiance practice sessions and matches can help keep the Sounders ready for one of their busier seasons in history coming in 2020. Our city will also be a spot to help keep the MLS roster fresh.
For the most part, Defiance will continue to be the place for the youngest players – Academy graduates, draftees, international youth, and players given a second chance. Lagerwey sees Tacoma as the place where that future develops.
“That’s the plan, to get younger and develop young players to have them push into the First Team and contribute.”
CURRENT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC ROSTER
GOALKEEPERS (2): Stefan Frei, Trey Muse
DEFENDERS (4): Xavier Arreaga, Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam and Nouhou
MIDFIELDERS (7): Handwalla Bwana, Emanuel Cecchini, Jordy Delem, Danny Leyva, Nicolás Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan, Gustav Svensson
FORWARDS (5): Will Bruin, Justin Dhillon, Jordan Morris, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez and Raúl Ruidíaz