When Seattle’s United Soccer League affiliate formally rebranded on Wednesday to Tacoma Defiance, it completed the final step in the Sounders’ developmental restructuring.
Formerly Sounders FC 2, the Defiance began playing at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium in 2018 after spending the previous three seasons at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila. Now fully integrated into the city of Tacoma, Defiance is the apex of the Sounders’ new comprehensive approach to player development, one in which the Sounders invested eight figures three years ago.
“Tacoma Defiance is going to be the center piece of that development,” said Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. “We will have player development, which is Tacoma Defiance and our Academy, all the way down to our U-12s, and then the Sounders up top. So, every kid that comes out here and plays in Tacoma, they will be inspired to play in front of 40,000 people at CenturyLink Field for the Sounders. That's what this is all about, giving kids opportunities.”
Garth Lagerwey speaks at the rebranding press conference at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma | Lindsey Wasson
The Sounders’ development process is spearheaded by two people: Chris Little, recently appointed Tacoma Defiance Head Coach and Academy Director of Coaching, and Marc Nicholls, Director of Player Development. Little was the 2017-18 USSDA Western Conference Coach of the Year and will handle the on-field development, while Nicholls will be responsible for managing growth away from the pitch.
Lagerwey felt that Tacoma was a natural progression and step for young players in the Sounders’ system, in that it expands the Sounders brand within the region as well as gives kids a chance to play in a stadium with a passionate fan base, cheering on a team that is authentically theirs.
“It was huge already in our transition last year form Starfire to [Cheney Stadium] to having a real crowd and a real audience, putting kids under pressure and seeing how they do in a new environment,” said Lagerwey. “That’s definitely a part of their process, a part of their evolution. We have 20 kids in the youth national team [pool] right now. Those kids have had experiences in front of big crowds, but those are potentially in foreign countries, and it sure would be neat to have those kinds of crowds here in Tacoma.”
Sounders Academy has produced some top-level talent since its inception, with Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin and current Sounders forward Jordan Morris as prominent examples. But the way to truly advance as a club is to not have one-off success stories, but rather systemic structures to help ensure the process can be repeated with great frequency.
“CenturyLink Field is a wonderful thing to dream of and all kids are going to aspire to that, but you can reach out and touch this [in Tacoma],” said Lagerwey. “The Defiance is the keystone, the top of that arch that’s going to keep everything together, and if we can get this piece right, then it’s going to open the floodgates and the talent flowing through to the Sounders.
“We're going to be playing teenagers, giving kids their very first chance at professional soccer, and we are going to do it better than anyone else,” he added. “And we're going to develop elite soccer players, not just for this club but for this country."