*Sigh* Another game, another couple points dropped due to errors of focus, near misses, and issues playing in the defensive third. As we’ll address in the First Step, because of the shortened season, time is running out very, very quickly for North Texas SC to improve if they want to compete for a USL League One title. It raises several questions: does this iteration of NTSC possess enough technical ability and nous to win consistently in USL1? If so, can they gel quickly enough to translate those attributes to results? TBD.
What does NTSC need to do to get a shot at the title?
With a quarter of the season done and Greenville cruising in 1st place, considering where NTSC wants to go (to the championship game), what do they need to get there (at least 2nd place in the table, as only the top two teams will play for the trophy)?
In major men’s soccer leagues in the US in the last 6 years, the 2nd-place team in the table (referring to conferences where possible to keep a USL1-sized sample) averaged 1.75 points-per-game, and the 3rd-place team averaged 1.66. For context, FC Dallas’ Supporters’ Shield and Open Cup winning 2016 squad accrued 1.76 PPG, and the 2018 team that led the Western Conference for most of the year got 1.68 PPG. Over a 16-game season, those numbers translate to 27.2 points for 2nd place and 26.6 points for 3rd place, which means that we should expect something like a photo finish for the second spot in the championship game – yes, maybe even small enough that disappointing home draws in week three and four could be the difference.
After four games, NTSC has 5 points, 1.25 PPG. That’s not great, especially when you remember they’ve benefitted from three home games thus far. Four of the next six are on the road, but if NTSC can get a result from their next game in Fort Lauderdale, the schedule sets up nicely for a potential string of positive results going into the game at Greenville on September 25th (all assuming the team stops gifting chances to the opposition).
To my eye, it looks like NTSC can conservatively expect to get 14 points from home games this year, or exactly 1.75 PPG, which leaves 13-14 points to be gained from eight road games (seven remaining). Sterling play at home, positive results against other teams competing for 2nd (Omaha, Richmond, Chattanooga, etc.), and wins at Orlando, Tucson, and New England plus a spare draw or two on the road somewhere else could be enough punch NTSC’s ticket. If that sounds tenuous, it’s because NTSC’s hopes of a repeat title are ebbing already.
Early grades on NTSC’s roster additions
With a building sample size in hand, now’s a fine time to review NTSC’s new additions to the squad. I’ve argued before that NTSC’s connection to the FC Dallas scouting network may help to buoy it to the top of the USL1 standings annually. High roster turnover puts that capability to the test each season, with the ultimate rubric being the number of NTSC players that make it to the first team rather than the results on the field. According to the leadership of the club, they only bring in players they think have a shot to play MLS soccer.
I’ve graded the players brought into NTSC from outside the club on a scale from “A” (should get a shot at FC Dallas next year) to “F” (Edwin Gyasi). These are, of course, early and incomplete – I reserve the right to change my view as we see more of these guys.
- Besides being an exciting, promising young player, NTSC #8 David Rodriguez also belongs to one of my favorite aesthetic sub-genres in soccer: maestros who wear their socks and shin-guards super short. Are the majority of the famous players that do this diminutive because it helps make them look taller? Yes. But the look is distinctive and associated with creative play.
- Just briefly on why field size matters, since it came up after the Union Omaha game. Toyota Stadium in Frisco is 117 yards by 74 yards – we’ve been told the field at Globe Life has the same dimensions. The soccer field in Werner Park in Omaha is 110 by 70, the minimum allowable for international soccer. That relatively small difference (seven yards in one way and four in the other) reduces the square footage of the playing surface by 11%. Now, imagine you’re playing against a high pressing team and you’ve got 11% less time to pass to a player who’s 11% less open before an opposing player takes the ball from you. Like all professional sports, high-level soccer is played on the finest of margins, where changes of 1/10th can turn a comfortable play into an impossible one.
- NTSC generated two goals and three-four other really good chances off of set pieces against New England. Was that more about NER’s weaknesses or NTSC’s strengths?
- My favorite metric for measuring chance creators is shots + shot assists per 90 minutes. Both parts should be pretty self-explanatory, though shot assists are called “key passes” or “chances created” or other stuff at different sites. The goal is to value contributions to chances holistically. David Rodriguez led the league last year with a mark of 4.61. You can find NTSC’s top 10 players by this metric below (still based on a small sample, obviously). I’ll refresh this chart every four games.