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Why there is no reason to panic over North Texas SC’s roster status

How the vagaries of the lower division soccer calendar and NTSC’s mandate will shape the club’s roster going into preseason.

Well, here we are: it’s 2020, FC Dallas less than two weeks away from starting their preseason, and North Texas SC has still only made one official addition this offseason, despite having little devoted depth across the roster.

If you, like me, are freaking out because it seems like the front office is DRAGGING THEIR FEET to fill out the roster and they’ve got SO MUCH WORK to do and the rest of the league is WHEELING AND DEALING, I urge you to relax.

NTSC has much more time to construct a roster than the first team

Compared to other leagues around North America, USL1 takes an unusually long period off between seasons. There are 160 days, more than five months, between the 2019 USL League One Championship and the opening game of 2020. By comparison, MLS will take off 111 days from MLS Cup 2019 to the opening day of 2020, and Liga MX takes off 66 days combined between the summer and winter breaks.

Because USL1 starts its season about a month after MLS, you should expect NTSC to start its pre-season training after FCD does. Last year, NTSC started the first days of February, giving nearly two months before the first game. Reports suggest NTSC’s 2020 preseason won’t start until at least the second week of February, a full three weeks after the first team. Take a second look at that 2019 pre-season roster too – it turns out you don’t need more than a handful of rostered players to hold a pre-season camp!

In sum, there’s plenty of time until pre-season camp, and probably longer than you think until the start of the season. Because it’s 3rd division soccer, the roster is going to be more fluid leading up to the season than the MLS squad: that’s okay.

There’s a strong possibility NTSC has been busy behind the scenes

There have been plenty of players linked to NTSC since the end of the season. Alongside those signings and rumors of signings, there are a few younger players that NTSC is apparently waiting to turn 18 sometime in 2020 before officially bringing them into the squad: you can find a detailed breakdown here (translation required). Maybe the club isn’t announcing anything, but there are strong indications that something is happening.

On the other hand, NTSC had a massive list of players trial with the team during the preseason last year, so it’s possible all these names that keep popping up aren’t actually signed but are just going to be given a shot. That’s okay too! To reiterate the point from above: this is third division soccer, and you should stop worrying and love the bomb.

Instead of relying on reports and rumors as the basis for discussing what NTSC has been doing, though, we’re going to make up some of our own! The club’s purpose is identifying and fostering talents capable of playing for the first team. That means we can probably guess the types of players NTSC is looking into. From that point all we have to do is gin up a player that fits, and hey presto, you’ve generated a rumor! Again, to be clear, THESE ARE ALL MADE UP FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES.

  • Player Type 1: Probably the most straightforward, NTSC exists to serve as a mezzanine between the academy in Dallas and the first term, giving players who (1) have outgrown the academy but (2) aren’t yet ready to challenge for a spot on the first team a place to play challenging games.

Rumor 1: We’re hearing Nico Carrera has secretly signed a deal with NTSC, but an announcement won’t happen until pre-season begins.

  • Player Type 2: Similarly, NTSC will certainly be looking at former FCD academy players who went to play in college and showed enough to warrant a roster spot at this level. Remaining college eligibility not required. For that matter, history with the FCD academy isn’t required either.

Rumor 2: In anticipation of Arturo Rodriguez signing up with FC Dallas, NTSC has reached out to Brayan Padilla to fill a role as a winger / attacking midfielder hybrid. The little magician is coming off a major injury in the fall, but NTSC expects him to get back stronger than ever.

  • Player Type 3: Expanding slightly outside the core of FC Dallas, NTSC is likely also monitoring the best players from FCD’s expanding network of academy affiliates. If those players aren’t young enough to transfer directly into the academy (like Pepi), the organization probably intends for them to make their entry to Dallas via the USL1 team.

Rumor 3: FCD De Santiago Nuevo Leon’s massively talented 16-year-old wingback Manuel Rojas will be hopping the border this winter and joining North Texas. Management thinks he can challenge for starter’s minutes on either side of the defense.

  • Player Type 4: Closer to Frisco but further from FCD’s sphere of influence, NTSC can serve as a pathway to the professional ranks for high-projection talents from across the metroplex. These players are still potential homegrowns, and moving to NTSC instead of FCD’s academy carries the added advantage of not competing against their home clubs (Solar, Texans, etc.).

Rumor 4: Solar SC’s talismanic attacker Bailey Sparks has grown tired of continually dunking on fools in the U19 DA, and, wanting to stay close to home, has decided to sign with NTSC. Eric Quill envisions Sparks as a do-it-all #8 for the reigning champions.

  • Player Type 5: Some talented youngsters take the Weston McKennie route and bypass MLS to go abroad. Other MLS GMs that are no strangers to losing talent this way have talked about giving those players a place to return and reboot their careers if the first move doesn’t work out. NTSC should position itself in that way.

Rumor 5: Reports emerged over the holidays that Blaine Ferri had been cut from Gruether Fürth’s U23s. A local kid with highly-regarded talent that might need a move back home and a second chance? This team might end up with too many playmakers!

  • Player Type 6: NTSC is a landing spot for players that have talent, but aren’t in good situations to foster it and are too old or good to join the academy. This category is a pretty wide umbrella, and so far these players have been from the Caribbean (Bicou Bissainthe) or Africa (Danso and Jatta). The (legitimately) reported the signing of Erick Gunera from the New Orleans PDL scene falls under this category.

Rumor 6: This season, though, NTSC will be dipping into Suriname to bring in Brian Elshot, a massively productive midfielder who impressed FCD’s scouts at the 2018 CONCACAF U20 championships.

I won’t claim that 100% of NTSC’s signings will fall neatly into these categories (“Pollo” Cortes certainly didn’t in 2019), but my guess is that Matt Denny’s aspiration is to move in the direction of filling out all of his roster with these types of players. We will see how successful he and Eric Quill are in that pursuit in the coming weeks.