Once the youngest professional in the organization, Azriel Gonzalez is a savvy veteran with three professional seasons of soccer under his belt. The promising 18-year-old experienced struggles adapting to the professional game, then was injured. After missing three months of the 2019 season he came back.
Shortly after his surgery, there was little expectation that he would be back during the season. He didn’t just come back sooner than expected – he came back a new player. In his four matches available for selection, he scored two goals and assisted on another. Tacoma Defiance went 2-0-1, +5 with Azriel seeing the pitch post injury.
The June injury could have stunted his growth. Instead, his dedication to healing, training, and the game of soccer built him into something even grander than those original expectations. His October comeback was his Colonel Steve Austin becomes the Six Million Dollar Man moment.
Highly respected and decorated, Azriel is tied for third on the career charts for goals + assists for Defiance/S2. He is also third in total career assists and ninth in goals scored. By the end of 2020, the rebuilt Gonzalez could be at the top of those charts.
The physical changes in Azriel Gonzalez are obvious to the eye. His ability to read the game has also accelerated. He now sees gaps and space. He reads not just the top level of attack like the forward he was in the Academy, but the next layer as well. His second goal post-recovery is a clear example.
Handwalla Bwana feeds the ball into the area. It’s just out of reach of Justin Dhillon, but Gonzalez is right there to pick it up. With no defender guarding that layer, Azriel can pick his target to beat the keeper.
His first goal back showed the type of footwork upon which Gonzalez’ star originally rose. That, combined with his more aggressive attitude towards the net, combined for a stunning goal which surprised even him.
Gonzalez operates with a comfort on the ball. His dribbling is able to open up space (see above) and his passing seeks to break through lines. All of this bodes well for his future in the game.
If there is one place where the rebuilt Gonzalez has not shown dramatic improvements it is in his defense. It isn’t a weakness so much as an area he can continue to improve. The winger readily involves himself in duels and is a solid upfield tackler. He will lose balls in the air, but ground duels are where he makes up for that. In 2019 he won 46% of those challenges. It was his third straight season improving that rate. He’s also improved in reading passing lanes, picking up a career best 7 interceptions.
Gonzalez’ frame is part maturing teen, part dedication to the training room. No longer do words like lithe or lean apply. He used his time of recovery to become hardened. Sturdier. That stronger frame should help him in the high-contact parts of the field where he thrives in spite of size. Azriel can still slip through spaces and changes direction quickly. If his speed is tested, he will use the same effort that built him into the player he became in late 2019.
13 starts | 5 sub appearances | 1,204 minutes | 4 goals | 3 assists | 22 shots | 12 key passes
Looking to 2020
With more than 2,600 professional minutes under his belt, the once-bright star should burn fiercely in 2020. Now comfortably settled as the team’s finest left winger, Azriel offers goal-threatening possession play to compliment the right side’s more direct attacks.
For more on Azriel Gonzalez and your 2020 Tacoma Defiance roster:
- Defiance Midfielder Azriel Gonzalez Undergoes Successful Surgery
- Nucleus of Defiance Roster Returns for 2020
- Tacoma Defiance Signs Four to New Contracts
2020 season tickets are now available. To learn more about joining our defiant crew as they explore the region and test their mettle, head to our Season Tickets page or email Tickets@WeRTacoma.com.