The reigning USL League One champions made their first addition of the offseason on December 6th, signing Alex Bruce, a Houstonian/Englishman who was under contract for San Antonio FC of the USL Championship in 2018 and 2019 and played with the now defunct Lansing Ignite during the inaugural USL1 season. He’s 21, and was a member of Eric Quill’s DA-championship-winning Texans SC side in 2016/17 that was built around Chris Richards and Christian Cappis. What is NTSC getting in this guy?
As a note on procedure, for individual game performances, I looked at Lansing’s games against Greenville in the playoffs (starter), against Madison in the last game of the regular season (substitute), against Chattanooga on September 14th (substitute), and at Orlando on August 14th (starter). ESPN+ doesn’t archive games back that far, so I wasn’t able to watch every touch, but I checked what highlights I could find as well as the USL1 game summaries available on the league website.
Ok, what’s his position?
NTSC needs talent across the roster, and in this case they bolster the forward line. When he started for Lansing (not all that frequent of an occurrence down the stretch), Bruce was usually listed as a striker, and in all the games I looked into he had the most advanced average position of any Lansing player to go more than five minutes. Checking through highlight packages confirms those data points, as he usually showed as a high striker pushing the opposing offside line or lurking in the box waiting for service or a loose ball. As we’ll see below, his game does not lend itself to lighting up the box score outside of goals or assists.
How’d he play last year in USL1?
Safe to say Bruce was one of the first players off the bench for Lansing in 2019, appearing in 23 games (9th most on the team) but only starting 12 (12th most, and was subbed off in nine of those starts), tying for 13th most sub appearances in the league.
Although Lansing was the only other team in USL1 in NTSC’s stratosphere in terms of attacking output, Bruce was not exceptionally productive for the Michigan team, grabbing a goal or an assist every ~220 minutes played, or ~0.4 per game, somewhere in between Dante Sealy and Oscar Romero in NTSC terms. Certainly not a prolific passer (only 20 total passes per 90 minutes), Bruce had ~0.73 shot assists per 90 minutes, bracketed by Jorge Almaguer and Bryan Reynolds among NTSC players, two guys who played as defenders for the majority of their minutes this year.
On the defensive side, don’t expect a second coming of Arturo Vidal: he gets into only about nine duels per 90 minutes and won only 27% of them, good for 5th worst of all players on NTSC and Lansing. Another stat he’s 5th worst in between the two teams? Tackles per 90, and he’s the worst for tackle win rate among players with more than one tackle last season.
Was it much different when he played for San Antonio?
Not really. In 2018 for San Antonio he played 779 minutes across 8 starts and 13 total games. He did a goal or an assist every ~260 minutes, had ~0.6 shot assists per game, didn’t pass much, and never tackled anybody.
Was it much different when he played for Eric Quill in the DA?
He was certainly more productive, scoring 17 goals in 29 games. What little tape I’m able to find of him that season suggests a similar player profile as described above: not contributing much to possession, working to be in dangerous spots to collect the ball and score, collection not required.
Along those same lines, when asked about that team during interviews, Coach Quill has essentially said the offense was built around Cappis’ ability to break down defenses (a little funny to think about considering he’s now a defensive midfielder in Denmark). Even against DA competition Bruce was not much more than an exceptionally effective 2x4.
Verdict: Did NTSC just sign a backup striker?
Probably. He actually plays the offensive side of the striker position in a similar way as Ronaldo Damus, even if there’s probably about four inches of height and a couple dozen pounds separating the two in stature. They are blunt instruments whose sole aim raising the anxiety level of the defense by their movement and aggressiveness. Can they get isolated if there’s not service? Yes, but ideally, they contribute enough on defense that you would never say they no-showed. We know Damus is a devoted if not dangerous defender – we will see if Quill can get Bruce there too.
Honestly, NTSC needed a backup striker once Johan Gomez left for Portugal. Pepi won’t be as available in 2020, and Damus is starting to get looks from the full Haiti national team and will hopefully be an FC Dallas player in a few months. The plan down the stretch in 2019 was to play Oscar Romero when both Pepi and Damus were gone, but Romero isn’t a true striker, and neither is Dante Sealy, though he could fill in in a pinch too. In the Academy, Andres Dicun and Gibran Rayo have been getting most of the minutes at striker recently for the U19s, but they haven’t been all that productive and, again, neither is a prototypical #9. You’d probably have to go down to PJ Akem with the U17s for that type player archetype, and he’s nowhere near a finished product yet. As such, Bruce fills something of a hole in the organization.
Do I think it’s likely Bruce ever plays a minute for FCD? No.
Do I wish Matt Denny and Co. would go out and get a player like Danso or Jatta who’s closer to 18 than 21 and has a real shot at progressing up the organization? Yes.
Does this move make FCD more likely to win silverware in the next five years? No.
Is this the type of move that will make NTSC back-to-back USL1 champions? For sure.