The 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season is just around the corner.
Tacoma Defiance kicks off their second year in MNP this weekend when they visit St. Louis CITY2 (3:00 p.m. PT | Watch on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV app) on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Final.
It’s been a busy offseason for the Defiance. With nine new players on the roster, this squad is eager to build off the solid foundation they laid in their inaugural MNP campaign in 2022.
Here are the five biggest storylines from the Defiance’s offseason:
One of the breakout stars of last year’s team, 22-year-old winger Georgi Minoungou, turned plenty of heads in his first campaign with the Defiance. After impressing on loan last year, the Defiance signed him on a permanent transfer in a record fee from MFK Vyškov. An exciting attacking talent, Minoungou is the first-ever acquisition directly to the Defiance. The Ivorian winger picked up two goals and four assists in 2022 and will look to build on those numbers in the coming season.
While a few key players like Marlon Vargas and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez departed in the offseason, the Defiance have maintained a strong spine throughout the squad. Seven players are returning to the squad for 2023, including starters like goalkeeper Wallis Lapsley, defenders Hal Uderitz and Stuart Hawkins, defensive midfielder Fito Ovalle, and Minoungou.
Midfielder Sota Kitahara graduated from the Defiance to the First Team after signing as a Homegrown Player in October. The 20-year-old Edmonds native has been in the club’s development pipeline since the age of 12. A hard-nosed, no-nonsense midfielder, Kitahara earned the MLS contract on the back of his standout performances with Tacoma. He is one of eight players on the First Team roster that began their careers with the organization on the second team.
The Defiance have added a few new faces to the mix in 2023 via the club’s youth system. Attacking midfielder Chris Aquino, who starred for the Sounders U-17’s at Generation adidas Cup and the U.S. U-17’s at the Concacaf Championship, will bolster the attack for Tacoma. Aquino is joined by fellow Academy alum Antonio Herrera, who will inject some creativity and attacking thrust to the Defiance’s midfield.
While he’s not a new signing, 16-year-old center back Stu Hawkins will compete for minutes along the back line. Hawkins inked a professional deal with Tacoma midway through last year and will look to take further strides in his first full season with the Defiance.
The Defiance also picked up some players from the college and professional ranks who spent time with Sounders Academy. Paul Rothrock joins from TFC 2, while Gio Miglietti and Elias Katsaros have signed from the University of Washington and San Diego State University, respectively.
Standing at 6’3”, Bjørgolfsson brings a physical presence and penchant for scoring goals to Tacoma’s attack. The Norway and Iceland international scored 24 goals across four seasons with the University of Kentucky, including 10 goals and two assists during his senior season when he was named a MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist.
A two-way presence on the flank, Bowen joins Tacoma on the back of three goals and two assists at San Diego State University, which earned him a place on the All-Pac-12 second team.