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Putting a capstone on North Texas SC’s preseason (and catching up on some news)

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FC Dallas’ second team shifts its focus from all this preparation to performance.

North Texas SC officially finished its preseason this past weekend with a pair of scrimmages, and now starts the first week of game prep of the 2021 season. Over the course of the last month, NTSC has played about 600’ games with a variety of personnel and against a variety of opponents. The question we’ll try to answer: is there anything to take out of these games?

But first, a brief interim point: a few NTSC alumni made news since we last spoke. Winger Beni Redzic was signed on a 2+3 homegrown contract with the first team after spending all of the preseason in their setup, CB Justin Che made his competitive debut and his first start for Bayern II, and NTSC loanee David Rodriguez, an attacking midfielder, made his Liga MX debut and first start for struggling Atletico San Luis, his hometown club. The news about Redzic and Che isn’t particularly ground-breaking, though it is nice to see that Che is the youngest player rostered by Bayern II this season by about a year and a half. If there’s anything NTSC has succeeded at from the beginning, it’s accelerating the development of Academy talents to propel them up into the first team and beyond.

On the other hand, the Rodriguez news is different – it illustrates a new path to top-level soccer directly from the FC Dallas second team. Huge props to Rodriguez for making an impression in his new surroundings and breaking through at an age where he has few peers in first teams across the league. I fully expect his option to be picked up by San Luis and for D-Rod to embark on a career south of the border, shocking given how far down the path to becoming a cautionary tale for kids looking to sign straight out of the Academy he seemed to be. While you can question how much the club really had to do with this good outcome, NTSC can now put the Liga MX logo next to MLS, Serie A, and the Bundesliga in their recruiting PowerPoint presentation on the slide labeled “Find NTSC Alumni Succeeding in the Best Leagues in the World”.

Turning to the NTSC preseason, it was a mixed bag of results against a bunch of USL-Championship clubs. As always, preseason performances are a Rorschach test – they don’t mean anything really, but it’s very easy to project your feelings onto them. Should it concern us that NTSC lost by multiple goals to everyone they faced apart from a poorly-rested FC Tulsa and El Paso Locomotive’s backups? Probably not! One thing you can legitimately take away is personnel – if you see certain Academy players several times, there’s a good chance you’ll see them once the live-fire starts. The few that stand out to me in that regard are the following: FW Nighte Pickering, CM Matthew Corcoran, CM Diego Hernandez, D Grady Easton.

You can read through the results below. Only one game was made available for public viewing, so for much of these, I’m relying on social media chatter and second-hand accounts. The “Who’s Who” section for each game just refers to those players that I can confirm were used by NTSC in that game. On that front, you won’t see new signing CB JJ Parra listed in any of these games, but he is in town at this point, so hopefully, he’s ready to play before too long.

@ San Antonio FC, 3/20/21

Result: Loss, 3-1

Who’s Who: Colin Shutler, Alisson, Imanol Almaguer, Thibaut Jacquel, Diego Hernandez, Matthew Corcoran, Nolan Norris, Tarik Scott, Nighte Pickering, Gibran Rayo, Cesar Garcia, Mikey Maldonado

Commentary: With what seemed to be an Academy-heavy squad, NTSC fell to your favorite independent USL-C side, and mine, SAFC, who themselves fielded a lineup pretty close to the one that would hold FCD to a 0-0 draw in regular time about a week later. Because tape is pretty limited on this one, there’s not much to say except that SAFC social media described it as an even-handed affair and that NTSC gave up a goal off a corner kick, which will become important later.

Vs FC Tulsa, 3/25/21

Result: Win, 3-0

Who’s Who: Bernard, Lucas Ramahlo, Alex Bruce, Nighte Pickering (Goal), Hope, Mikey Maldonado, Gibran Rayo, Diego Hernandez, Antonio Carrera, Thibaut Jacquel (Goal 2x), Alisson

Commentary: Only a day after playing Houston Dynamo in Houston, USL-C squad Tulsa traveled up to Frisco to scrimmage NTSC, earning a scoreless draw in the first half before conceding three times in the second. NTSC’s social media described the first half as a stalemate, and Tulsa made mass subs at halftime, so go figure about the predictive power of the 3-0 scoreline. You can see two of the goals below.

Vs FC Tulsa, 3/27/21

Result: Win, 1-0

Who’s Who: Hope, Gibran Rayo, Thibaut Jacquel (Goal), Bernard, Alex Bruce, Alisson, Michel (assistant coach), Dorian Hernandez (NTSC kitman)

Commentary: Another scoreless first half, but this one seems to have been controlled by a mostly first-choice Tulsa starting group through halftime with the post and a strong performance by the NTSC GK preserving the deadlock. After the half, Jacquel scrambled home a corner kick and that was all she wrote.

Vs FC Dallas Reserves, 4/8/21 (after the preseason game against Austin FC)

Result: Unknown

Who’s Who: According to those who attended: Gibran Rayo, Thibaut Jacquel, Bernard, Alex Bruce, Hope, Mikey Maldonado, Alisson, Imanol Almaguer, Colin Shutler, Alejandro, Kazu

Commentary: Since I wasn’t at the scrimmage and it hasn’t really been addressed by anyone who was there, the commentary is very much all hearsay and not worth repeating.

@ OKC Energy, 4/10/21

Result: Loss, 3-1

Who’s Who: GK Colin Shutler, RB Imanol Almaguer, CB Alisson, CM Mikey Maldonado, CM Gibran Rayo, CM Hope, W Bernard (Goal), ST Thibaut Jacquel, W Nighte Pickering, CM Matthew Corcoran, CB Grady Easton, ST Alex Bruce, and there’s a reasonable chance Alejandro played LW based on the coaches’ yells, but I’m not willing to bet my life on it

Commentary: In the only match this preseason to be streamed (which is why I can associate who’s who with their positions in this case), NTSC fell to USL-C competitor OKC Energy. NTSC earned the first goal of the game, which you can watch below – Rayo played to the wing to Almaguer, who wriggled through a press and fed Jacquel in behind to square the ball to Bernard in front of goal. Despite the beautiful goal, NTSC conceded far more and more dangerous chances than they earned throughout the match, especially struggling to defend set-pieces. The first half, where NTSC fielded a lineup that bore more resemblance to a first-choice group, was a bit more positive than the second, where a mix of Academy players and trialists replaced the regulars for the most part. The two players that stood out the most to me were Official BigDSoccer MVP Prediction Hope and open tryout signing Maldonado, both for their technical acumen.

Vs El Paso Locomotive, 4/16/21

Result: Win, 3-1

Who’s Who: Kristian Kelley, Matthew Corcoran, Anthony Ramirez, Thibaut Jacquel (Goal 2x), Nighte Pickering (Goal), Diego Hernandez

Commentary: Very little to go off of from social media to the point that the below tweet is the only place North Texas has referenced this game. El Paso played their backups and a handful of Academy kids.

Vs El Paso Locomotive, 4/17/21

Result: Loss, 4-0

Who’s Who: Colin Shutler; Collin Smith, Alisson, Grady Easton, Derek Waldeck; Imanol Almaguer, Hope Kodzo; Alex Bruce, Gibran Rayo

Commentary: El Paso played their first team and North Texas got smacked. Apparently, there was some miscommunication and El Paso thought they would be playing FC Dallas in this second game, but instead got most of NTSC’ first team on short rest.