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North Texas Two Step – On the Right Side of the Knife’s Edge

Rapidly approaching the season’s crucial moments, NTSC is still building towards its best self.

Since we last spoke, FC Dallas’ second team North Texas SC drew at home, 2-2, versus league-leaders Union Omaha (thanks to yet another late concession) and shutout North Carolina FC in a 1-0 victory. The Omaha draw leaves a bitter taste as the latest in a long series of mediocre performances and dropped points, but road wins absolve many sins, and if Freddy Vargas and Kalil ElMedkhar turn out to be permanent additions for the rest of the year then NTSC is going to be very hard to beat.

The Path to the Playoffs

We’re close enough to the end of the year that the data entry required to do some homebrew point total projections have fallen below the level that’s prohibitive for me, so consider this the unofficial North Texas Two Step USL League One final standings projection.

Below, you can see the current league table sorted by points per game. One simple way to project the final table would be to just assume that each team’s PPG accrued thus far will be their PPG in the future. You can see those projected points totals under the “Simple Proj” title. NTSC’s on the wrong side of the playoff line.

A more nuanced way to project the table would be to look at all the games each team has still to play and project each in a systematic way. That method, the results of which are displayed under the “Adv Proj” title, has NTSC squeaking into the playoffs by 1-2 points. What is this more favorable method?

Basically, I looked up every team’s non-penalty expected points (the summed/weighted probability of different game outcomes given the non-pen expected goals in the match) for home and away games as collected by ASA. For each remaining game (see below; highlighted cells represent two games), I netted the home team’s per-game non-pen expected points from home games against the away team’s per-game non-pen expected points from away games. On average, teams win 1.375 points per game (they draw about 25% of the time and win half of the other 75% of games), so I used that as each team’s baseline for each game and then adjusted by the expected points differential.

In other words, NTSC does better by this method than the simple PPG projection because (i) they get three of their last five at home and NTSC is the second-best home team in the league, and (ii) their two away games are at two of the three worst home teams in the league: Tucson and Fort Lauderdale.

One word of caution: there are few enough games left in the season and the table is congested enough that a single result can swing the projected table wildly. Last month, NTSC was on the inside track to get a home playoff game; now they’re just barely keeping their noses above water.

Another Two from the Factory Line

With all the reports suggesting he’s Bayern-bound this winter, Justin Che’s departure from the first team is going to leave an FC Dallas roster spot open for a low-first-team-usage but high-upside CB prospect. It’s certainly possible that Zanotta and company look outside the club for that profile, either in the draft or elsewhere, but I think they’ve already found their top two candidates. Bizarrely, both are from the youth ranks of the same fourth-tier Portuguese club.

Though perhaps the result of some shady backroom dealings, NTSC’s partnership with FC Alverca seems to have netted two bonafide young CBs in its first year. Caiser Gomes, 21, despite missing preseason and sitting the first two games of the year, is leading the team in minutes played and frequently trains with FC Dallas. Lucas (introduced as “Lucão”, but I’m going with “Lucas” since that’s what’s on his jersey), 19, was a midseason addition that took some time to break into the team but has looked impressive in limited minutes.

The NCFC game was the pair’s first extended run together and the results were remarkable. Here are a few of my favorite moments:

Both are completing more passes than the models expect, though perhaps in different ways. Gomes is a finesser, shaping passes in interesting ways to find difficult-to-reach targets, whereas Lucas so far is more of a Che-style long bomber. Both have above-USL-level speed and strength, but Lucas gets there with a prototypical CB frame whereas Gomes is a little shorter than typical. Still, both win their aerials at healthy rates. Gomes has been pretty spectacular vacuuming up balls behind the defense (and Lucas is already showing similar skills) but can switch off from time to time.

More to come on roster moves after the season, but suffice it to say that I think these two are going to be NTSC’s first-choice CB pair for 2022. Lucas’ loan runs through next season, but Gomes’ ends this year.

Burnt Ends

  • Look, he’s probably not coming back next year because he’s predisposed to do Messi-levels of work off the ball (that’s not a compliment), but Vargas is super fun in USL1. We often talk about how NTSC can be a struggle for FCD players because they’re expected to prove they’re above the level every game. Vargas passes that test with flying colors and looks bored doing it. He’s stronger, faster, smarter, and more skilled than everyone else, and he knows it.
  • I’ve seen enough. I’m calling it. If, as expected, FCD moves on from Zobeck and Phelipe this offseason, I want Colin Shutler to get the job as first-team-backup over Richard Sanchez (assuming this season for NTSC has been a long tryout). The data and my eye test strongly suggest that Shutler’s both a better shot-stopper and better with his feet, and, even if it was closer, the tie should still go to the player who’s four years younger: the UVA-grad draft pick.
  • There’s a new leader in the NTSC Goal of the Year race. Watch the below 19-pass sequence leading up to the first goal against Omaha. Bathe in the accelerating momentum. Special kudos to Gomes for the brave diagonal entry ball and to Ferri for the awareness to play KEM behind quickly.