In order to take the step into Rave Green that Shandon Hopeau and Josh Atencio took, Sounders Academy players are starting their professional journey earlier every year. With roster space open on Tacoma Defiance the organization picked three youngsters for next – these players are ambitious, determined, and now Defiantly Tacoma.
Just teens they are earning professional contracts and appearances against our biggest rivals and against potential champions. Tested, they will learn and grow along with the city they represent.
Alex Villanueva – Ambidextrous Wingback
Once part of the Real Salt Lake Academy, Alex Villanueva is now a U-19 champion with the Seattle Sounders Academy and a Tacoma Defiance professional. Villanueva played five matches with Defiance in 2019 on an Academy contract. Now, as a pro he has three games played including his start on the road against Portland. He split his time on the right and left by half.
Another example of a modern fullback who wants to spend as much time attacking as possible, Alex has the speed to change games and a sweet dribble. When watching the game, you might think he’s playing as a winger in the attack. That’s what Coach Little wants from his fullbacks, no matter which side of the field they man – Villanueva will play on both sides.
Reed Baker-Whiting – Youngest Yet
Already on the U.S. National Team radar at 15 Reed Baker-Whiting is the youngest to sign a pro deal with Tacoma yet. Like so many coming into the system, he won trophies in the Academy, including a Youdan trophy at just 12 and was part of the 2019 U-17 winning squad at the Generation Adidas Cup.
RBW already has three appearances as a sub with 45 minutes played. The central midfielder looks to drive the ball forward, cycling from defense to attack. There’s a lot of promise in his young frame. Reed should be expected to feature on the bench regularly.
Eric Kinzner – Built in Tacoma
A young centerback who will study under former MLS defender Wade Webber, he also shares Wade’s South Sound origins. Kinzner is the first player in Defiance history to call Tacoma home. At just 17, Eric already has a pro frame. The left-footed player is one part grit and other part destiny.
Back in the Before Times he joined the First Team down in Mexico City during preseason training, playing a few minutes against Club Atlético Zacatepec and Pumas UNAM U-20s. In his debut Kinzner completed 81% of his passes, including more than 50% in the opposing half – all as a centerback.
Eric Klenofsky – Loanee in Goal
With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting travel between Canada and the United States, Toronto FC II is taking a year off from the sport. Their efforts to get playing time for their talents is to Tacoma’s benefit. Giant goalkeeper Eric Klenofsky will take the pitch with Tacoma Defiance for the rest of the 2020 season.
Klenofksy is a lanky 25-year-old who previously played with D.C. United, Richmond Kickers, Hapoel Marmorek, and TFC II. His first appearance with Tacoma demonstrated cat-like reflexes, an enormous wingspan, and the potential that earned him nine appearances on the bench for D.C. as a 22-year-old rookie in 2017.
Christian Herrera – Loaned and Gone
Oakland Roots let Tacoma Defiance borrow their keeper for a few weeks. In that stretch the goalkeeper meshed well and showed some promise. His two clean sheets helped Defiance to wins. Now he’ll help Oakland in their run to the NISA playoffs. In his first match back with Roots he had a shutout in a 2-0 win.
The Future of Champions is built on the field of Cheney Stadium. With the black ink still drying on these players’ contracts they’ll look to prove themselves to Sounders President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey. Watch them against Portland Timbers 2 on Saturday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN+.