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North Texas Two Step – Don’t Call It a Comeback

From one foot in the grave to one foot in the playoffs, NTSC takes the last step in its regular season journey.

Since we last spoke, North Texas SC responded to a deflating loss to Richmond by winning the small moments that turned two relatively close games into two season-saving victories. First, they found the goal needed to sink the Fighting Beckhams in Fort Lauderdale. Then, somehow, they ended up beating Revs 2 by three in Arlington despite going down a goal and a man inside the first half-hour. What did it take for that to happen? Multiple Revs 2 players missing the goal from point-blank range, the best Revs 2 player kicking a PK into his own foot, at least one obscene save by Big Dick Sanchez, an obviously offside (yet allowed) goal for NTSC, and more. NTSC came back from the brink like

It felt like all of NTSC’s high variance luck got cashed in during one 90-minute span. Let’s hope they still have some left in the bag.

One Step to Being One Step Closer to Glory

Only one main point today given where we are in the season, and I’ll do an expanded Burnt Ends section at the bottom. The one main point: will NTSC make the playoffs?

The intermediate question is whether NTSC can beat Omaha, who they host in their final regular-season game. The short answer is yes, but they haven’t done it yet. The two teams have played four times, three times in Omaha and once in Arlington, and the cumulative score is 3-4 in favor of Omaha, who won the first matchup in August 2020. The other three games were draws.

During those four games, the scoreline favored Omaha for 23 total minutes, NTSC for 106 total minutes, and was even for 231 total minutes. Omaha outshot NTSC 14-8 per game on average and 5-3 if you restrict that to just shots inside the box. In those games, NTSC conceded a shot every 20-25 passes compared to 30-35 in other games. In the games against Omaha, NTSC made 8.5 more clearances than the Nebraskans per game, whereas against all other competition they make about four fewer clearances. In sum, NTSC has found a way to be on the right side of the game state more often than not, and Omaha’s direct style has put NTSC under pressure in ways that other teams often fail to achieve. They finished second and first in the standings in their first two years of existence for a reason: Omaha’s a quality side.

One crucial point that will differentiate this game from the other meetings is that Omaha has nothing to gain from this match. They have locked up the top seed in the league and cannot improve or worsen their place. Does that mean they won’t even try in this game? Not really - they’re professionals and every game matters to them. Does it mean they might rest some of their better players to keep them healthy and fresh? Maybe not - because they have a bye in the playoffs, sitting guys could blunt their form.

For NTSC, it’s a bit more complicated. Worth remembering that the top six teams in the table make the playoffs.

IF NTSC WINS: they could go as high as third (if Richmond fails to win this weekend and Greenville loses) and as low as fifth (if Richmond wins and Greenville gets a result). A win guarantees a spot in the playoffs.

IF NTSC DRAWS OR LOSES: they could go as high as fifth and as low as seventh. If both Revs 2 and FC Tucson win, they would both have 40 points and 11 wins. An NTSC draw would give them 40 points and 10 wins, down to seventh on the first tie-breaker (wins), and an NTSC loss would give them 39 points, down to seventh on points. Crucially, if either Revs 2 or Tucson fail to win, NTSC is guaranteed a spot in the playoffs regardless of their result. Revs 2 plays at Toronto on Friday, and Tucson hosts Richmond on Saturday night after the NTSC game.

My guess? The Revs don’t win in Toronto and NTSC is in the playoffs before their match kicks off.

Burnt Ends

  • If NTSC ends up in the playoffs, the below goal will be a necessary but not sufficient precedent. What I love about it is not the precision, though the precision is nice. It’s a hard, precise pass by Lucas into Munjoma’s feet, it’s a precise layoff by Munjoma to Ferri, it’s a precisely weighted through ball to ElMedkhar, and then it’s a tremendously precise cross by ElMedkhar to keep the ball just beyond the GK’s reach. What I love about this goal is the hustle by Rayo (who had been screamed at by the coaches, like, four times in the five minutes prior) to make up 10+ yards of ground on the FTL RB to get in position to tap it in. That play is all heart.
  • Throw a “W” in the comments for legendary NTSC alums Arturo Rodriguez, Brecc Evans, and Ronaldo Damus, each of whom’s clubs have qualified for the playoffs in USL Championship. They’ve all had successful seasons in their own way, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re rooting for a championship for one of Phoenix, Memphis, or Orange County.
  • Damien Rivera is not a fun assignment, I get it. He’s right there with Kalil ElMedkhar at the top of the list of most effective wingers in USL1 this season, and he’s played 1,000 more minutes than ElMedkhar. That said, the Revs 2 game was a reality check for Collin Smith’s development as a 1v1 defender. Here are two examples from back-to-back possessions. On the first, he’s too passive, relying on his speed to help him recover once Rivera picks his direction – Rivera gets his cross away easily. On the second, he’s too aggressive, snatching at the ball while Rivera shuffles it inside and past him. These situations happened all night. Smith’s likely still a full season of U23 ball away from minutes with the first team.
  • A lot of memorable stuff happened in that game against New England, but I’ll remember it for Derek Waldeck’s performance. After the early red card to Mark Salas, it was Waldeck that pinched in from LB to fill in at CB and played there for the rest of the game. Waldeck, who’s charitably 5’8” and not fleet of foot, put in a shift as a CB. Don’t get me wrong, we may be entering a renaissance for the short king CB – Ajax just started two dudes that are 5’10” or shorter against Dortmund and they held giant-cyborg-sent-from-the-future-to-score-goals Erling Haaland in check more or less. Still, what a testament to the captain’s brains and heart that he held the backline together in a crisis. A true legend of the club.