North Texas SC was never intended to be a career in and of itself. Players either develop or leave. If you develop enough, you’ll earn a shot with the first team. If you don’t, you leave anyway. Probably the closest analogy is large companies like Apple or GE or McKinsey sponsoring students to go get their MBAs, except if you don’t do well there’s no guaranteed job with your sponsor afterward. U23 teams are soccer grad school, and the end of the season is graduation day.
My assumption is that the upcoming MLS U23 league (in which FCD’s second team will compete) will have similar roster rules as the U23 Premier League in England.
- It’s age-restricted by birth year, so players born on or after to Jan 1, 1999 will count as U23;
- Goalkeepers are not age-restricted;
- Each team can play up to three overage players per match. Thus, while you can have an O23 player on the team’s roster, that player must have real value proposition for the club to invest such a roster slot in them.
Contract details are in the following illustration. How will NTSC contracts translate to the MLS U23 league? No idea.
With all that context in mind, here’s how to think about each of NTSC’s players going into the offseason (overage players have an asterisk after their names).
GROUP 1 - UNDERCLASSMEN
Barring a mutual contract termination or a callup to the first team, these guys will all probably be back with NTSC next season.
Hope Avayevu – Incorrigible attacking midfielder and sometimes wing. Hope battled through a few injuries in his first season going through a professional match schedule, but otherwise, his 2021 reminded me of David Rodriguez’s 2020 – exciting in flashes but stuck behind a #10 down from FC Dallas (Nicky in 2021, Thomas Roberts in 2020).
Bernard Kamungo – His first 10-15 games jumping to USL1 from high school soccer were electric, but Bernard seemed to wear down as the season went on and he was superseded by others. Yet, when NTSC needed him the most, he came up with huge goals down the stretch as a one-man fast break. One of two or three people in the club who could give Collin Smith a challenge in the 60-meter dash, Bernard should focus his offseason on (i) building a physical base to withstand the marathon of the season, and (ii) getting more dangerous when he cuts onto his weaker right foot.
Gabriel – He’s tall, he’s fast, he works his butt off, and he’s pretty good at finding space in the opposition box. Injuries aside, a fine first half season with the club. Gabriel will probably be the starting #9 on opening day next year.
Lucão (or Lucas, depending) – Not as quick out of the gates as his fellow midseason loanee Gabriel, Lucas has been a revelation down the stretch as he cemented his spot in the lineup. The rash red card in the quarterfinals shouldn’t sour you on him. At his age and with his tools, Lucas is definitely penciled in at the top of NTSC’s CB depth chart for 2022…unless he wins a spot with the first team in the meantime.
DJ Benton – I was skeptical when NTSC signed him, but Benton at the very least seems like reasonable FB depth on both sides and a high character addition to the locker room. Maybe he doesn’t have the technical bonafides to be an FC Dallas player, but he’s useful to NTSC.
Alejandro – A few really impressive games as an attacking midfielder preceded a long-term knee injury which basically wiped out 2021 for Alejandro. He’ll likely be back next year to compete with Hope and a few Academy players for the #10 spot.
GROUP 2 – SUPER SENIORS
All three of these players have option years for 2022 and have shown enough on the field to prove they can help NTSC excel. If they don’t earn permanent spots with the first team this offseason, they should be back with NTSC.
Blaine Ferri – I haven’t hidden my admiration for how Ferri, 21, played for NTSC since joining a month or so into the year. He’s a sophisticated midfielder with some bite and seems like an obvious candidate for a preseason tryout with FC Dallas in 2022. Regardless of the success there, NTSC has an option it can and should exercise in the near term to keep him in the club for at least another year.
Mikey Maldonado* – Like with Ferri, I’ve seriously admired what Maldonado brought to NTSC this year after making it through an open trial. Although he’ll be over the U23 threshold for next year, I’d advocate triggering Mikey’s second-year option: he’s among the best passers to ever play for NTSC and he’s hard as nails in 1v1 duels. Another year could help him improve his game-reading.
Colin Shutler* – Colin Shutler is good. I don’t care what the staff thinks – he was more reliable than Sanchez and he’s good enough to play in MLS. The club should keep him even if he doesn’t get a first team deal this offseason.
GROUP 3 – THE GRADUATING CLASS
None of these players are likely to be on NTSC’s roster next year. Mostly, it’s because there’s little discovery value left to keep them, either because they’ve been around the team for a while already (Rayo, Almaguer, Alisson) or they’re past the steepest part of their development curve (Rio, Jacquel, Sanchez) or their loans are expiring (Kazu, Gomes).
Gibran Rayo – Technically has an option year, but that’ll be his fourth year getting real minutes for NTSC. I think Rayo should and will strike out for maiden waters this offseason if he can’t get a foot in the first team’s door. Versatile, smart, hard-working, technically-gifted attackers are always in style – someone in USL Championship will snap him up.
Thibaut Jacquel – The Campbell attacker has proved to be little more than a big-bodied free-kick specialist. At 24, that’s a tough sell to go in for the option year.
Imanol Almaguer – A true servant of the club and a future shibboleth among NTSC die-hards. “Imanol Almaguer? That dude frikkin’ rocks.” Here’s hoping for a long, prosperous career for Ima.
Alex Bruce* – A Quill-favorite who always seems to get into the game when there are duels that need winning, Bruce rarely showed the hold-up play or predatory instinct in the box that he needed to turn the heads of the first team staff.
Rio Ramirez* – What a pleasant surprise Rio has been. Coming from the local amateur leagues, he’s been a fine addition as a duelist and passer in the base of midfield and the center of defense. At his age though (23), it’s tough to imagine him staying longer given he’s basically a trusted backup for NTSC.
Mark Salas – The structure of his contract (two-thirds of a season without any option years) always suggested to me that Salas was using this year as a tryout for the first team, and, if it didn’t pan out, he wanted the freedom to move elsewhere. Now an undersized rotational CB for NTSC, it seems likely Salas will be gone.
Richard Sanchez* – I think Shutler’s outplayed him in the race to be FCD’s backup next season, but time will tell if I’m right. If he goes to the first team, he’ll be on their bench all next year. If he doesn’t, he won’t be back with NTSC.
Derek Waldeck* – Another example, with Almaguer, of your favorite fan’s favorite player. Waldeck’s been a warrior for NTSC, playing more minutes than anyone over the last two seasons and improving markedly and consistently over that time. Both of his performances in NTSC’s two late games wherein they mostly played with 10 men were legendary. FCD should give him a look this offseason. If he can’t make that jump, here’s hoping for a long, prosperous career for Derek.
Alisson dos Santos Correa – Alisson couldn’t develop beyond the high-stepping hulk he came to NTSC as in 2020. The injuries didn’t help. I’ll be interested to see what he chooses as his next step. Big, versatile, skilled players tend to find good homes.
Kazu – The Brazilian youth international has proven to be a potent attacking threat all up and down the left side for NTSC, but I don’t think he has enough long-term value to the club to justify triggering a buy from his home club Coritiba unless he becomes a full-time LB. Even then, maybe there will be better options.
Caiser Gomes – His loan from Portugal expires this offseason, and I think FC Dallas should give a hefty, hefty think to keeping him permanently as a prospect at CB.
Josh Ramsey and Daniel Evans are two FCD-alum college players for whom NTSC should put on the full-court press to sign. Also, expect more minutes for young Academy players next year. As for external signings, NTSC may prioritize CBs, FBs, and DMs.