North Texas SC began its pre-season camp on Monday, callously acting as an enabler for my lower-division and youth soccer dependency. This article is a primer so you don’t look like an idiot when you’re at that cocktail party next weekend and the conversation turns to FC Dallas’ USL League One affiliate’s preparations for the season. You’re welcome.
What’s Happened Since You Last Paid Attention?
The major roster change since the sign-a-palooza in mid-January is the addition of Luis Zamudio, who fills one of the more urgent, if least sexy needs on the roster: backup goalkeeper. It’s just not clear who is the backup. Zamudio and Avilez are of similar age and pedigree: Avilez got the YNT call-ups, but Zamudio has found himself rostered at a higher level to date (he was something like Club América’s Kyle Zobeck). Both will likely ride the bench when the first teamers need a game, but that still leaves 15-25 starts to split between them. I’ve listed Avilez first here in recognition of his time with NTSC last year, but my belief is this will be a real position battle in the pre-season. Fantastic work by Matt Denny getting Zamudio to come to Arlington.
While I’m assuming there are a large handful of trialists with NTSC in camp (both because there are faces I don’t recognize in the training photos from Monday and because NTSC has a whole lot of players to add to the roster in the next month and a half), we likely won’t hear much about them until the team gets closer to its first preseason matches.
What questions still need to be answered about the current roster?
Although the above depth chart is my best-educated guess, there are a few places where I will be focused in the coming weeks to get some clarity:
Which of the draftees are sticking around, and where are they playing? I’ve removed Megally and Engebretsen from the depth chart because they’re outwardly no longer (or never were) with the first team. Seems like there is a consensus that FCD will sign Burgess and Jennings to the first team, and their positions are pretty easy to predict anyway (RCB and ST, respectively). That leaves Ferriol and Waldeck. Ferriol hasn’t gotten minutes in either of the two most recent scrimmages, and it’s felt like both he and the coaches were working to define his best spot in the midfield – he was a 10 in college, but Luchi thinks he’s a 6 maybe? Waldeck has gotten a little more playing time recently and has played in at least four different spots this pre-season (LB, LCB, CDM, CM) – versatility that could prove useful to NTSC, a la Imanol Almaguer.
Wither Alvarez? Brought in on loan from Monterrey, Juan Alvarez has played significant minutes at both the youth and senior levels at RB. And yet, when commenting on the prospect of shoring up the RB spot for NTSC, Quill went out of his way to name Pedro Alves aka Conceição aka Cuadrado as the addition in that spot. So, where will the Monterrey man play? No one signed to NTSC has a better professional pedigree than Alvarez. Oh, and it doesn’t look like either Alvarez or Alisson dos Santos Correa are in the country yet – FCD’s checkered history with visas suggests at least one possible explanation, but I’ve been able to find any specific evidence either way.
Who else is going on loan? Brecc Evans is gone, and he’s likely getting replaced by Nkosi Burgess in a Callum-Mongomery-in-2019 kind of way. We’re expecting at least a few more NTSC players to leave via that route before the season begins, specifically Ronaldo Damus, the reigning USL1 golden boot winner, and Arturo Rodriguez, the people’s MVP. I happen to think Alex Bruce is a like-for-like Damus-replacement in terms of playing style, and the same could be said of Gibran Rayo replacing A-Rod. That means sending out Damus and Rodriguez won’t hurt the system all that much, even if it does exacerbate NTSC’s squad depth problem and potentially downgrade in quality (at least in the near term). As an aside, Rayo seems to be in the form of his life right now, crushing it for the U19s in the various friendlies they’ve been playing. I’m stoked to see if he can keep that going for NTSC.
Who else is NTSC going to sign?
I’m not a reporter, so don’t expect specific names here. However, the depth chart above, the team’s stated goal to “have more players than last year” (ie: 14+, enough to play a game comfortably without FCD, academy reinforcements, and without having to call a coach out of retirement), and NTSC’s preferred player profiles suggest a pretty clear shopping list. These needs could be filled by trialists already working with NTSC in camp, external players yet to be signed, or more academy kids following the Rayo / Almaguer path.
- More center backs: Brecc Evans can be recalled from his loan to Austin, but I doubt Quill and Co. will be banking on that. NTSC needs at least one and probably two more players who can cover at CB on the roster. Montalvo and Murillo served this role last year but were cut in December. The real trick? Balancing the need for a usable standalone roster against the concern of cutting off high-value prospects Nico Carrera and Justin Che from playing time.
- A devoted left back: There’s not one on the roster presently (unless this is where Alvarez is going to play?). Last season, NTSC never signed a left back and passed the position between Almaguer, Bonilla, Nelson, and, in the end, Gomez (pour one out). I fully expect them to sign a permanent solution.
- Another versatile piece in the frontline: Romero and Rayo can both play anywhere across the front three, but if both A-Rod and Damus leave the only cover in case of injury would be Arturo’s younger brother David. And while I think D-Rod is an ultra-high-level chance creator, he’s a non-traditional fit as either a winger or a false-9.
- (Probably of least urgency) more midfield depth: I actually really like the balance of the current midfield three (Rodriguez, Almaguer, and Alisson). Rayo can drop back and play the 10 or the 8, and FCD’s coaching staff seems to have no compunction about redeploying fullbacks into the central midfield in a pinch. But, if NTSC really wants a standalone roster, they need another versatile player in there who can back up all three spots. If Toni Kroos or Frenkie De Jong isn’t available, maybe Tanner Tessmann will do. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯