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North Texas Two Step – Liftoff

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NTSC started its season in grand style: scoring buku goals and refusing to play any defenders.

Well, that was fun. North Texas SC came back at home to defeat Fort Lauderdale CF 4-2 to start its USL League One season. And with the return of the USL1 season comes the return of the North Texas Two Step, my periodic analysis piece on how NTSC and its players are faring. As a reminder, these pieces are not game recaps. If you want that, you can use the two following tweets. The goal, instead, is for this to be the most illuminating 1,000-some-odd bi-weekly words you can find about NTSC. Now on to the Steps!

The Re-Invention of the Wheel

Rotations and switches of position while in possession are key pieces of what has made Eric Quill’s NTSC so potent offensively. On Saturday, we got a look at a new version of that trend. Why did NTSC start Alex Bruce, as much of a target forward as can be imagined, at the #10? I’m glad you asked.

In Rayo and Hope, Quill has two players that are equally comfortable playing in front of the defense as advanced central midfielders or out wide as wings. In Jacquel, he’s got a striker that loves wandering around the field to find space and the ball. What Bruce offers, then, is the third piece to a pair of flywheel triangles of rotation on either side of the attack. Hope and Rayo can step backward off the defensive line and into midfield, pulling defenders with them, Jacquel can float wide ahead of them to either overload the defenders on Hope/Rayo or pull defenders out of the middle, at which point Bruce can shift up from midfield to a typical target forward position where there are fewer defensive bodies than normal. See the arrows below.

Is this the long-term solution for NTSC? Probably not. If anything, it seems like Quill compensating for his true wingers (Alejandro and Bernard) still learning the ropes at the club. We saw some tantalizing flashes of Hope’s ability to receive and turn and play between lines in this game. I would love to see him shift inside to Bruce’s spot once Alejandro or Bernard earn starts.

Yes, this team performed like the NTSC attack we’ve come to expect, but, as illustrated by the game-flow tweet above, four goals probably flattered the shots they actually got away. Still, they look pretty, pretty good already, and there’s tons of work to do in tightening up their touches and decisions in the last 25 yards. NTSC’s going to score a lot of goals again, y’all.

What happens when you play a 0-7-3?

Take another look at that lineup. Notice anything? There’s not a single field player that grew up as a defender. Almaguer is the closest (because he played everywhere for the Academy), but he didn’t even start in defense. Waldeck came to NTSC as a midfielder, Alisson likewise was a defensive midfielder in Brazil before he moved here, Maldonado played at the base of midfield for the San Antonio Runners in the UPSL, and Smith was a winger until being converted to RB this offseason.

There are downsides to that approach. For the first FTL goal, either Waldeck misjudged the cross or there was a breakdown in communication between him and his winger. For the second, Waldeck got his ankles broken on the edge of the box and Smith totally lost his mark in front of goal. There were other bad moments (Alisson burned in transition, 12’), but there were also some really good moments (Smith, 32’; Alisson, 5’; Waldeck, ’40; Maldonado, 3’). It was up and down against the ball.

With the ball, though, they were broadly magnificent (Smith less than the others, somewhat curiously). NTSC’s defenders consistently found either their teammates’ feet or led them to dangerous space behind FTL’s first line of pressure. All four starting defenders completed more passes than expected per ASA’s model, with Waldeck especially doing so despite a highly progressive pass profile. These are some of my favorites.

Burnt Ends

  • There are four unsung but elite actions I’d like to acknowledge from Saturday’s NTSC goals. (i) Almaguer (who was mostly very good) playing the FTL clearance with one-touch forward to Nicky who goes against a still-unsettled defense to slip in assist-man Hope; (ii) Hope turning under pressure and playing quickly and unexpectedly cross-field to (iii) Rayo, who won the foul that led to Jacquel’s goal (sorry for the lag); (iv) Waldeck’s first touch to get upfield immediately and clear the scrum so he could play in Bernard.
  • Well, that didn’t take long. I speculated a while back that someone might set the record this season as the youngest player to appear for NTSC, and it took barely an hour to happen. Matthew Corcoran is a special, special prospect, and I’m happy to see him debut in a game like that. Looking forward, there’s again a reasonable chance this record falls before the end of the season. U15 FW Kristian Kelley, who scored a hat trick in the Dallas Cup final and has since been invited to train up with the U17s and NTSC, would become the youngest if he plays before November 10.
  • It wouldn’t be an NTSC season opener without a player being rostered who I’ve barely heard of before. Turns out “Roman Torres” is the four hattrick hero from the Dallas Cup that plays for, not the Academy, but ’02 FCD Premier, one level below the Academy. He’s a great story, just like…
  • …Bernard, Tanzanian refugee turned open trialist turned debutant scorer. What a story for the young man, and what a goal! Before we anoint him a star, though, let’s also note that pretty much every other involvement for him in the game ended Bernard making the wrong choice or the right choice too slowly. That’s to be expected – he’s jumping from high school to USL1. He’ll take time.
  • As a final point, I’d love to hear from those of y’all that made it to the game how the crowd was. Judging from the broadcast camera, I was impressed given the COVID constraints. At least they saw a good game.