A close match on paper, North Texas had the chance to eliminate MNUFC2 from playoff contention while securing a spot of their own.
Through a coach-by-committee led by assistant coach Vikram Virk, North Texas would ultimately overcome Minnesota's high-pressing defense.
Early on it seemed like Minnesota’s young striking prospect Aziel Jackson would open up the scoring. In the first 10 minutes, he created a multitude of chances including a shot that forced a remarkable save by Antonio Carrera.
North Texas would respond quickly however as André Costa set up Collin Smith who executed a perfect cross for Bernard Kamungo.
1-0 North Texas SC.
Early in the second half, a ball cleared by Minnesota would land at the feet of winger Tanitoluwa Oluwaseyi. From midfield, Oluwaseyi would outrun center-back Paul Amedume before assisting Aziel Jackson. 1-1.
Soon after a combination of long balls between Isaiah Parker to Kamungo would result in Parker’s second goal of the season.
The match would finish in North Texas’s favor 2-1.
Kamungo scored his 14th goal of the season as well as his fourth assist. He sits just one goal shy of North Texas’s all-time scoring record and just two goals shy of their single-season record.
A close and overwhelming match for North Texas was eventually settled by Carrera’s unwillingness to be scored upon and the team’s nearly unstoppable ability to counterattack.
“At these stages of the season, it’s important to grind out and get these results. It wasn’t the prettiest but it was a win that matters a lot,” said Virk after the match.
One of the dominating narratives this season has been the team’s ability to overcome tough matchups against desperate opponents. Following their second straight battle against a team facing elimination, no one embraced that challenge more than Kamungo.
“This time in the season every game could be the last game for you so play like it.”
Kamungo also touched on his ability to read the momentum of the game. He added that he didn’t feel discouraged after Minnesota leveled the match because he felt another goal was soon to come. Nevertheless, just six minutes after conceding North Texas was back on top.
The end result closed out a three-game sweep of Minnesota this season as well as their elimination from the playoffs.
North Texas held off on celebrations of their own as a hot Earthquakes 2 sat closely behind in the league table.
That being said, on Friday, Sept. 9, San Jose fell to the Salt Lake City Monarchs in overtime.
North Texas SC have officially clinched playoff contention in MLS NEXT Pro’s inaugural season. From here on after, each match’s impact will strictly affect playoff seeding.
The table currently stands as follows, with North Texas playing their next match tomorrow at 12 p.m. at home.
The team’s final two matches against St. Louis City 2 and Houston Dynamo 2 offer a chance for North Texas to catapult themselves into second place. In the new playoff system, the first and fourth seeds face one another along with the second and third. The higher seed in each circumstance earns home-field advantage.
Depending on how their opponents fair elsewhere there’s a real chance for North Texas to move up the table.
Also, new acquisition Carl Fred Sainté made significant progress in the midfield this week. After a season of usage in the dual-pivot role, he’s become a game-breaking six for North Texas. His positioning improved drastically in his first full 90, and his ability to complete long passes will be crucial in the playoffs.
Make sure to tune in to tomorrow’s match against St. Louis City 2 Sunday at noon. Mlsnextpro.com