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North Texas Two Step – Wins are the only currency now

Kicked hard in the shin by the soccer gods, NTSC must pick itself up, dust itself off, and get results…fast.

Since we last spoke, North Texas SC pulled off a comfortable win in southern AZ, 2-0 over FC Tucson, and then came home and fumbled away a lead to fellow playoff bubble squad Richmond, losing 1-2. I say “fumbled” – this was a game that NTSC was comfortably in control of for 80+ minutes until a Kicker hit a 1/500 shot and Nkosi Tafari got beat on a set-piece, neither of which you’d expect to go against you ex ante. It’s a really bad time in the season for “soccer is a high variance sport and inherently random” to become a headline.

Last time, I estimated that the playoff line would be at 37-38 points. Intervening results have pushed that number closer to 39, and NTSC is on 33. With an away game in Fort Lauderdale and two home games remaining, if they were on the right side of the knife’s edge last time, they’re on the other side now.

Eric Quill: A Profile

I started covering North Texas SC for BigDSoccer two years ago because the level of discourse in print about the club was cursory at best - who/what/when/where game recaps or a player profile once in a blue moon. Not much has changed elsewhere, but I’m proud of the work we’ve done here to think one or two levels deeper about FC Dallas’ second team, its players, and its coaches.

As such, with Eric Quill a likely candidate for the vacant first team head coaching position, I felt it might be useful to offer my view of Quill having observed him closely for three years. In my mind, there are three high-level traits that set him apart.

  1. Each year, his NTSC teams have improved throughout the season, becoming more cohesive, more disciplined, more ruthless. Usually, they peak as they approach the playoffs. Part of that is the nature of his rosters (young and unfamiliar with one another), but part also is Quill’s willingness to chop and change his lineups to find the right players and roles.
  2. Eric Quill values and uses positional flexibility in his players. He wants to play a fluid, interchanging game, which requires players that can take up different positions when his team has the ball and defend different positions in a pinch when they don’t. CDMs playing as CMs, FBs playing as wings, CMs playing as FBs, STs playing at AMs, etc. Mix it up as needed to get the matchups you want.
  3. He has an intense and demanding manner. During games, prowling the sideline, he wildly yells and gesticulates at the players and the referees to coax a little extra chance of winning from the game. Commonly, his lineup choices and quotes given to the broadcasters show how heavily he weights effort and mentality.

Is he the right coach to lead FC Dallas? I’d strongly prefer he spends a few seasons as a full-time first-team assistant rather than getting the top gig right away. Experience matters when it comes to navigating the schedule in MLS and coaching talent to win rather than develop. After two or three years of that? Sure, I’d be more than happy to have him as FCD’s head coach.

NTSC’s attack is balanced now, as all things should be

One place where Quill may have finally found a solution is in NTSC’s attack. It’s the nature of the gig that you sometimes have to find spaces for first-team players even if they don’t necessarily fit your structure. Still, aside from three spot starts for Rayo and one start for Beni Redzic, NTSC stuck with a blunt object, behind the line or inside the box attacker at the #9. It was Jacquel then Bruce then Bernard then Gabriel. When injuries and poor form scuppered those plans, Quill tried two games with a two-striker set up in early September, two games where NTSC was shut out. Then came this run of games (forwards listed from left-to-right):

  • Sept 18 - v Omaha: ElMedkhar, Vargas, Rayo; Nicky
  • Sept 26 - @ NCFC: Kazu, Vargas, ElMedkhar; Nicky
  • Oct 2 - @ Tucson: Kazu, Vargas, ElMedkhar; Nicky
  • Oct 10 - v Richmond: Kazu, Rayo, ElMedkhar; Nicky

Just getting the best possible players onto the field certainly helped, but, in my opinion, just doing so doesn’t solve problems if you can’t do so in a balanced structure. It’s simplistic, but I’m a big believer in the concepts of “floor-raisers” and “ceiling-raisers” in soccer. With this setup, Nicky, the closest thing to a high-volume floor-raiser available, can rotate with a hybrid ST/10 in Vargas (or the harder working but smaller, less athletic, less visionary version of Vargas, Rayo) to create chaos in the middle as super-smart, off-ball-running ceiling-raisers ElMedkhar and Kazu burn through the defense. Fluidity, beauty, and danger are all up.

It inverts the “jumbo 10” model from early in the season where Quill would stick a ST at the peak of midfield to hold up the ball and play up-back-through and crash the box late. Turns out he had the right idea then, but he needed to turn it inside-out to get the best out of his roster.

Burnt Ends

  • Academy star GK Antonio Carrera started for the U19s on Saturday and was subsequently included on NTSC’s bench as the backup to starter Richard Sanchez on Sunday. Rotational starter Colin Shutler was not listed in the (notoriously unreliable) injury report – are we seeing a changing of the guard in NTSC’s GK room?
  • We discussed Blaine Ferri’s work on-the-ball a few weeks after he joined, how he moves the ball quickly and well, and regularly blows by guys with his receiving. This time, I wanted to highlight a couple of recent bulldogged plays. Statistically, he stands out among current NTSC midfielders as consistently challenging attackers for possession, and he’s a solid-if-distant second to Maldonado in the rate at which he wins those 1v1s.