Since we last met, NTSC were sunk by about 60 total seconds of brainless play in a 3-2 loss at Richmond that NTSC led twice, and then came back home and tore Forward Madison apart in transition with the help of FCD forwards Kalil ElMedkhar and Freddy Vargas, winning El Plastico 4-1. Of note, NTSC scored the first goal in each game, something they had struggled massively to do so far this year.
If the league website is to be believed, Quill’s kids now get Chattanooga (for my money, the best team in the league) at home and then five of the next six (and seven of the next nine, and nine of the next twelve) games on the road. They’re not in as bad a spot as the table makes it look, but it could get worse in a hurry.
The necessity (but not sufficiency) of being harder, bigger, faster, stronger
The guys that come down from FC Dallas always flash a certain amount of skill on the ball and speed of thought that stands out at the USL League One level. Even when guys like Roberts or Sealy were struggling to make an impact with the second team, they would, two or three times a game, pull off plays that you simply don’t see from elsewhere in the league.
The other thing you see, without fail, is a level of athletic ability that pops off the screen at times. Nicky Hernandez, Edwin Cerrillo, Colin Smith, Eddie Munjoma, Freddy Vargas, Kalil ElMedkhar, Beni Redzic: every one of them can fall back on some combination of blazing speed, bullying strength, or quicksilver agility either to bail them out of mistakes or to widen the circumstances in which the opposition can make the same. Early in the season, I pointed to the athletic difference between NTSC and their opponents in some games. It goes the other way when all the FCD guys are playing down.
This is why I’m skeptical of whether players like Gibran Rayo or Derek Waldeck or Blaine Ferri or Mikey Maldonado can make the jump up to FC Dallas. You may be smart, you may be able to make the ball do what you want, but if you’re not a physical outlier at the USL1 level, your margin for error in MLS will be vanishingly narrow.
Deja vu all over again
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but NTSC is “making too many mistakes and kind of shooting [them]selves in the foot game after game” and “other teams [a]re pretty lethal in punishing [them] when [they do] make those mistakes”. Just look at the six goals conceded at Richmond and New England:
- Kazu and Bernard watch as a NER2 player cuts in from the wing and crosses behind the defense. NTSC’s CBs stand flat-footed as the NER2 FW steps to the ball inside the six-yard box.
- Some issues defensively for NTSC, but mainly it’s a nice play by NER2 #34.
- Maldonado gives the ball away casually on the right side, the NER2 LW drives at Alisson, and the big Brazilian gets nowhere near the ball with his challenge, conceding a PK.
- Smith gives the ball away cheaply, Richmond attacks and is repulsed, but they collect the ball on the wing and serve it back in. Few for NTSC have transitioned to defend.
- Nicky Hernandez takes the ball down poorly and is outhustled to the carom in his own penalty area, tripping the Richmond player who got there first and conceding a PK.
- Hernandez, on the ball as NTSC counters, dribbles aimlessly to the sideline in his own half just long enough for all his teammates to get ahead of the ball before he gives it away. Richmond’s resulting cross goes in off the far post.
The really frustrating thing is we’re seeing this with the first team too. Hollingshead’s failed diving header against LAG, Acosta falling asleep on LAG’s second, Quignon and Bressan combining to give away Vancouver’s first, Che creating a CK for Vancouver from nothing, stopping defending when the flag went up against LAFC, all those PKs early in the season.
How do you get professional players to stop making mistakes they know not to make? I don’t know, certainly, but I note that NTSC pretty much cut it out last season and turned into one of the best defenses in the league. Let’s see if Quill can pull the same trick twice.
- After his brace against Madison, Kazu is tied for the team lead with three goals, all of which came from him playing as a winger and outhustling the defense to balls in behind. The young Brazilian is clearly a level below Eddie Munjoma as a player for the moment, but showing a Munjoma-esque goal threat as a natural fullback at the USL1 level is a good way to get people’s attention. Speaking of Munjoma scoring goals…
- NTSC’s second vs Madison was about as good a team goal as we’ve ever seen from this club. Special mentions for Smith dribbling through pressure on the right wing and Vargas swinging the ball out to ElMedkhar with his first touch instead of slowing the playdown.
- With the addition of UNC- and Academy-vet Mark Salas, it feels like NTSC is done adding external players to the roster for this season. Salas gives competition in a lot of different spots: he played 73 games and almost 6,500 minutes in four years at UNC while manning pretty much every position behind and including d-mid (besides goalie). NTSC has yet to find a solid CB partner for Caiser Gomes – maybe it’ll be Salas.
- Warning: prospect hype barely related to NTSC incoming! With the MLS Next season over, the club has started to re-introduce Academy talents into NTSC training. NTSC is near the bottom of the table and hasn’t used Academy players this year, so who knows if he’ll even play, but I wanted to make sure I have it in writing before he blows up that I think U15 playmaker Jared Salazar (seen below) is an immensely fun and exciting prospect. Because he’s a lefty, and incisive, and exceptionally productive, and as consistent as the sunrise, and doesn’t stop moving, I’ve taken to referring to him as The Lonestar Lodeiro in my notes. Yes, Corcoran is the consensus top prospect in the Academy, but Salazar, a Terrell native, is a solid #2 in my book. Hopefully,
- we see him with NTSC this season.