Since we last met, North Texas SC got back in the win column at home against Tormenta, and then couldn’t hold off a TFC2 team that had a total of one warm-up friendly and eight training sessions before this game if the commentary was to be believed. Look, teams change, and NTSC went from being a pretty bad to a very good team during the shortened 2020 season, but there’s a real chance we’ve got a solidly below-average USL1 team on our hands here in the metroplex.
What happened to playing Academy kids?
Before the season, we mentioned that NTSC probably takes some strategic pointers from Bayern Munich’s second team and that we should expect them to continue to transition more towards external talent signed to second-team contracts. Well, the season’s here now, and maybe they overshot it a bit? Minutes played by current Academy players have fallen off a cliff, down to 1% of total NTSC minutes so far in 2021 from 20%/22% in 2019/20.
65 total minutes, 64 of which were accrued by 15-year-old CM Matthew Corcoran. It’s not just that Academy players aren’t seeing the field – they’re barely seeing the bench too. Outside of three bench appearances by Corcoran, FW Roman Torres was rostered in the first game of the year and GK Antonio Carrera traveled with the team to AZ once it was clear that FCD needed Colin Shutler in the midst of an injury crisis in the net. The only other Academy player NTSC has bothered to register as of now is U17 FW Tarik Scott. We know others, like ST Nighte Pickering and CM Diego Hernandez (see the second photo here), are training frequently with NTSC, but I wouldn’t wager that any are all that close to breaking through.
Minutes played isn’t everything with NTSC: getting young players time in training is a crucial part of the model. However, accelerating the trajectories of Academy players was the standout function of NTSC in its first two years. Why have they pivoted so hard away from it? Two non-exclusive hypotheses:
- NTSC feels they’ve unlocked a new level of external signing via the success FCD has had selling to big European clubs. Thus, they want to lean into that channel.
- The ‘02s-‘04s that make up this year’s (bad) U19s and last year’s (worse) U17s just aren’t that good as prospects, and the ‘05s and younger (outside of Corcoran) lack super high-quality players that can overcome physical mismatches a la Pepi or Jonathan Gomez.
The lessons that Collin Smith’s HG deal as an RB can teach us
If you followed NTSC last year, you’d be excused for some confusion seeing Collin Smith playing right back for NTSC this season. You’d be further excused if your eyes popped seeing him listed as an RB in the FCD press release covering his homegrown signing and in the FCD roster. Wasn’t he supposed to be the next Michael Barrios?
Whenever FCD makes a new HG signing, I like to think through the other young players at that position that FCD didn’t choose. In this case, FCD being an RB factory, it’s a more fruitful exercise than usual. See my list below. While I like some of them better than others as prospects, both relative to Smith and each other, the most important thing is FCD had all these other options, all of whom had played not just any but many games at RB, and decided instead to sign the option who had never gotten a competitive minute at RB. Why?
There are a million different interpretations of the spot, but the Reynolds sale maybe uncovered how much of a market there is for athletic upside at RB. Some of these other guys have that to one degree or another, but Smith is of a different type. In 2020, as a 16-year-old, he was already one of the best straight-line athletes in the whole club, and this year he’s visibly bigger and taller.
That’s won’t do him any good, though, if Smith can’t learn how to… you know… actually play RB. He’ll be making the Bryan Reynolds transition a year later than Reynolds himself did, and doing so with less of a technical and tactical foundation. In this case, FCD is betting on (i) Smith’s ability and desire to learn, and (ii) NTSC’s utility as a developmental tool, which Reynolds didn’t have for his first year as an RB.
All that said, we should note that none of Munjoma, Twumasi, and Hollingshead have guaranteed contract years after this season, so it’s not as if the RB depth chart is etched in stone. There’s still a pretty clear path for any of the guys above to end up with the FCD first team. We’ll see how it goes.
- In the 37th to the 42nd minutes of the Tormenta game, Nicky had maybe the worst five minutes I’ve ever seen from an NTSC player. A few representative excerpts from my notes: “I mean…so bad from Nicky”, “Gotta get Nicky off the field”, “Get him off the field!”, “NICKY!!! WTF?!?!?”. It was brutal. He was subbed at the half. Still, the best two chances NTSC created in the first 45’ both came from Nicky’s right foot, and the latter came soon after that bad run of plays. Pro athletes have to be mentally tough so they can shrug off mistakes. Nicky’s got that mentality.
- NTSC has now conceded first in each of its five games in 2021. That’s obviously not optimal if you want to pick up points – the likelihood of getting a result drops from ~63% to ~32% if you concede the first goal in a match. Why is this happening? Eric Quill apparently thinks it’s a mentality problem. I think it’s because NTSC is bad at defense. If you give up 2 goals per game you’re more likely to give up the first goal each game.