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How NTSC was different on the field in 2020 and how it was the same

2020 was a year and a season like no other, but the more things changed for North Texas, the more they stayed the same.

North Texas SC

First of all, they weren’t as good in 2020…right?

There’s a tendency in the fanbase (shared and stoked by me, to be honest) to romanticize North Texas SC’s 2019 season. Wire-to-wire leaders, huge personalities, huge moments, and silverware at the end. So, when the team stumbled out of the gate in 2020 after the season-opener at home against Madison, it felt like a letdown. At no point after the first game did the 2020 squad match the 2019 team’s points-per-game after the same number of games the season before (see left graph below).

However, that romanticized view is mostly informed by roughly the first and last seven games of the 2019 regular season and the two playoff games where NTSC went 14-1-1. In the first seven games, they entrenched the “NTSC is way above the level of USL1” narrative, and of course the last nine games are the ones we’re most likely to remember from that season. Between those two stretches, NTSC went on a 14-game run where they averaged 1.35 PPG, a period of form just as dour and even longer than the doldrums they faced in 2020.

I guess the main point is not to see 2020 as some enormous step back in competitiveness. Over the course of the season, NTSC wasn’t as good in its second year, but the gulf is not as big as you think.

Goals accrued a little more democratically in 2020

How could they not? NTSC finished with two of the top three goal-scorers in the league in 2019 and three of the top ten. Those three players (Pepi, Damus, and A-Rod) accounted for about two-thirds of NTSC’s goals in 2019, whereas the club’s top three scorers in 2020 (Damus, Redzic, and Bruce) only accounted for two-fifths of goals. Additionally, Pepi and Damus both did most of their damage in 2019 while playing as a lone striker, which they obviously couldn’t do at the same time, meaning most of NTSC’s production was concentrated in two players per game: A-Rod and whoever was playing ST. In 2020, Damus and Bruce both got theirs, but you also saw a meaningful amount of production elsewhere on the field: A-Rod, Romero, Redzic, Munjoma, and Hernandez were all either tied for or within one goal of second on the team in goals.

Lest you think goals were more concentrated because minutes were more concentrated during a plague season where head coach Eric Quill managed a shorter bench, the top 11 minutes-getters for NTSC in both seasons accounted for a little more than 60% of total minutes. The team had to get more creative around the penalty area in the absence of an apex predator at forward. We’ll discuss it more when we preview the forwards for NTSC in 2021, but that player is likely absent this year again, which may mean another season of less predictability in the box score.

The defense ended up at nearly the same place, but took the long way to get there

That early-season swoon in form mentioned above was almost entirely driven by a porous defense that caused me to recommend just enjoying the ride without worrying about whether the team was “good” or not. At the halfway point, NTSC was giving up an extra goal and six more shots per game than they had in the 2019 season.

Well, after reaching the nadir in Fort Lauderdale, Quill made some personnel changes (notably inserting first Brecc Evans into the lineup and then Nkosi Burgess) and from that point on the defense improved pretty linearly to end up within a single goal of matching the 2019 team in units of goals-against-per-game.

Both Burgess and Justin Che are back next year and should soak up a ton of minutes. Back too are doughty Brazilian d-mid Alisson and grizzled fullback Derek Waldeck. That said, the rest of the defense and GK corps are in major flux. 2021 might see NTSC start with a few false starts again as the coaching staff figures out who can contribute what.