Reigning USL League One Champions North Texas SC started their titled defense on Saturday, getting the win 2-1 vs El Plastico rivals Forward Madison at the club’s new home field in Arlington. With so many new faces on the pitch, there’s a lot of new info to talk through, but for now we’re going to keep the main discussion to the two standout performers for NTSC on the night. This is, after all, the North Texas Two Step, a semi-regular (think once every two weeks or so) review of NTSC I plan to maintain throughout this season. In each edition, we’ll dig into two topics that I think will help fans better understand the team, and throw in a handful of burnt ends – small, savory bites to finish the meal.
Lamar Batista should be required to register his left foot as a deadly weapon
We were excited about Lamar Batista before the season. He’s a giant, unusually skilled, mobile CB who had played almost everywhere other than CB in his young pro career because…well, I’m not 100% sure. But it might have had to do with his risky decision-making and erratic defensive positioning. While there were a few moments of the latter, all the positives popped up beautifully in his first game with NTSC. He dominated in the air, snuffed out a few counters, and generally loomed like a grim reaper over Forward’s attacks. Because NTSC had 70% possession in this game, though, Batista’s work with the ball became more important.
During a first half where NTSC struggled mightily to advance the ball through midfield, Batista’s distribution from the back created some of NTSC’s sharpest attacks, including a peach of a diagonal to assist the first goal. NTSC built last season’s #1 offense in USL1 on the ability to shift immediately from safe possession to incisive attack. Perhaps the biggest requirement of that is to eliminate defenders with the ball. Consider that box checked for Lamar Batista.
David Rodriguez, following Arturo’s footsteps
This game swung around halftime. In the first half, NTSC had two shots to Madison’s six. In the second, NTSC had 13 shots to Madison’s two. In the first half, NTSC struggled badly to play into the final 20 yards of the field, especially down the middle. In the second, they were able to run at the Madison back line time and again. Why?
I argue the three biggest reasons for the shift were (1) Madison’s fitness levels, which seemed to flag relative to NTSC; (2) the game state – NTSC held a lead for the last 30 minutes; and (3) David Rodriguez got more of the ball.
In the first half, floating in the space between the front line and an Alisson-Alvarez double-pivot, Rodriguez served as a reference to the bulk of NTSC’s possession, darting into spaces between defenders to receive the ball and quickly play forward or wide (the second pass in the video above is a great example). He did a fine job, but the team didn’t look coordinated enough to create much danger. We’ll see if the team comes back to that look as the season continues and the guys get more work in together.
In the second half, D-Rod served as the engine of NTSC’s possession. Alvarez moved up next to him, allowing Rodriguez to drop back and pick up the ball deeper with more space and then create vertical movement (mostly on the right side). He rondo-ed, combo-ed, and dribbled NTSC upfield over and over, eventually netting him a ton of touches around the box.
With Arturo Rodriguez on the other side of the Rockies, someone was going to have to take on his responsibility for moving NTSC’s possession into danger areas. D-Rod was fantastic in that respect for the final 45 minutes on Saturday.
• Having watched bits and pieces of a few more USL1 games from the opening weekend, I have to say the quality and speed of play in this game was not relatively high. In the first half especially, NTSC looked slow on the ball and Forward Madison bungled quite a few dangerous moments. Here’s hoping these teams get better quickly.
• I am a proponent of CBs carrying the ball past the opposing forward line and into midfield where they can. It adds +1 to your team’s numbers in attack in a way that can lead to a chance. However, there’s a fine line between getting stripped by holding onto the ball too long in that situation and passing before the defense commits defenders to you. Missing that line risks a turnover and a counter the other way. Grady Easton, for all the courage he showed carrying the ball forward, couldn’t find that line enough in this game. If I were the coaches, I’d be praising him for taking the risk and working hard to improve his playmaking in that spot.
• After blowing by the reigning USL1 Best XI RB, Beni Redzic opened the scoring for NTSC in the 11th minute. He was very active in this game: lots of shots, lots of crosses, lots of passes, lots of duels, lots of fouls won. You’d prefer that kind of boldness to timidity in a player getting his first significant minutes in the pros. However, I wonder if the early goal went to his head, because his decision-making in the final 3rd through the rest of the game was closer to “hero ball” than optimal. He has to pick his head up and look to find passes when the shot isn’t on, and know when to just keep possession instead of trying to make the killer play, especially late in a game where his team leads.