Since we last met, North Texas SC gave up a late PK goal to draw a rotated Union Omaha squad 1:1 in Arlington. It was a game that bore a lot of resemblance to earlier iterations of this rivalry: Omaha played excellent defense and made NTSC miserable, but the Texas club managed a few good chances in transition. In this case (as in July), Bernard buried one.
The game was made far less meaningful the day prior when TFC2 beat New England and stamped NTSC’s ticket to the playoffs. Still, NTSC lost the opportunity to host a playoff game due to Alisson’s (harsh) late PK concession. That issue, giving up results in the final minutes of the game, has cropped up throughout the season for this team. Although no doubt a net negative, then, Alisson’s goal might be a nice mental refresher for the players to hold that little extra needed bit of focus as games wane. That could be super important, because…
NTSC won’t be scared of Chattanooga, or anyone else…except maybe Greenville
…NTSC will have to play its quarterfinal against the Kardiac K-9s, the Chattanooga Red Wolves, on Saturday at 6 pm CT. In the four games where NTSC has faced the Red Wolves in 2021, Chattanooga scored a goal in the 93rd minute or later that changed the result in three of them. NTSC picked up two total points from those four games but led them for more time than Chattanooga did.
On the one hand, man would it be nice to have seven points instead of two from those. Brutal lessons to learn. On the other hand, NTSC has gone into western Tennessee twice this year and played the Red Wolves straight up – they should have total belief that they can win this game. Indeed, there’s no team in the league that NTSC hasn’t either (i) beaten or (ii) drawn but deserved more (though I’d really appreciate not having to go to Greenville).
NTSC’s ability to build out through Chattanooga’s press and flip field position will be key. If you measure opponent passes per successful tackle or interception (a metric of pressing success where lower is better), in the two games that Chattanooga registered around 15 they outshot NTSC 29:22, but in the two games where they were, 25+ NTSC outshot them 17:23. Their xG differential was also better in the better pressing games.
How can NTSC plan against that? Drill, baby, drill (your build-out patterns so you can rotate faster than the Red Wolves can react)! Also, maybe take two pages from the book you used against Greenville earlier in the season:
- Play at least two vertical threats in the forward line (likely ElMedkhar and Bernard based on form) to push Chattanooga back. Encourage your defenders to take risks trying to play those guys in behind the defense. Maybe play Rayo at the #9 ahead of #10 Nicky to balance the attack.
- Start your best ball-handling four across the back – Waldeck, Lucas, Maldonado, and Tafari (if he’s available – if he’s not, start Gomes – if he’s not, pray, then start Waldeck or Rio Ramirez or Maldonado at CB). Yes, that means benching Collin Smith after six straight starts. Also, ideally, get Shutler back healthy in the GK spot.
If NTSC can win this battle for field position, they’ll be in a great spot to advance to the semi-finals.
- The quarter of an hour Hope played at the end of the Omaha game was the biggest runout he’d gotten since mid-September, and yet in that small window of time, you saw both his promise and his pitfalls. Relegated to a bench role after starting the first three games, Hope only managed 395 minutes in the regular season. I thought Hope would be the team’s MVP this year based on his game-changing ability to do the unexpected, but his inability to do the simple has kept him off the field. You saw that against Omaha: he kept creating plays and then killing them with poor decisions or inconsistent technique. Still, don’t be surprised if Hope makes the difference at some point this postseason (also don’t be surprised if I’m wrong – I’ve got a soft spot for undersized, clever playmakers).
- Bernard, despite being in a very similar spot as Hope in many ways, has accrued almost 600 more minutes because his speed and slick dribbling offer a threat unlike what NTSC otherwise has on the roster. I’m very glad to see him break through what seemed like a mid-season slump to make the difference with three goals in the final two games of the regular season.
- Let’s say NTSC loses and their season ends in Chattanooga: would 2021 still be a success? Allow me to tap the sign: NTSC is about player (and coach) development, and the absolute best tool for development is (i) competition for playing time in (ii) high leverage games against good competition. NTSC has achieved that this whole season. An extra game won’t change much.