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North Texas SC’S 2021 season is finally here! You should be watching

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Come watch the greatest show on *checks info on Globe Life Park’s surface material* turf.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

FC Dallas’ second team starts its 2021 season tomorrow, six months to the day since they last played a competitive game. You may be thinking to yourself, “is it really worth my time to see some reserves team grind through the lower tiers of US soccer for 28 games?” Well, dear reader, on this spiritual highway we call “life”, no one can tell you which roadside attractions to stop at, but here are a few reasons why I’ve chosen to spend so much time on this ramshackle group of kids. I hope you pull up alongside me.

Why I will be watching North Texas SC in 2021 (besides the fact that I write about the team as a hobby)

  • Club President Dan Hunt famously compared watching NTSC to getting to see Pearl Jam “when they started in the garage”. Passing over the fact that Pearl Jam didn’t play out of a garage as best I can tell, the sentiment remains: seeing the FCD and global stars of tomorrow take their first professional steps is the most exciting part of the NTSC experience. I’m not saying you could have predicted that Bryan Reynolds would play for a top Serie A side in 2021 after a $10+ million transfer if you had watched NTSC in the 2019 season, but I am saying you could tell people that you predicted it based on what you saw. In his press availability this week, Luchi mentioned that there are players born in ’05 and ’06, players who are 14-16-years-old, that might play for NTSC in the opener. Want to be able to brag you were there from the start for The Next Big Thing in US soccer? Being a fan of NTSC is the right move.
  • I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that there will be a recurring bit in my periodic analysis pieces during the season called “Skinning of the Week” or “Broken Ankles Inc.” or something like that because there is a silly amount of on-ball talent on this team. Between Hope and Alejandro and Bernard and Gibran Rayo and some of the Academy kids, the comp-makers and highlight-reel artists are going to be busy. Defenders will be embarrassed. Mothers will shield their children’s innocent eyes from the barbarity. These guys are going to put on a show.
  • If there’s one thing you can count on from an NTSC game, it’s goals. The offense is a given. No one comes close to NTSC’s goal-scoring record over USL1’s first two seasons, and their personnel moves and preseason performances do not suggest there will be any change on that front. The defense, on the other hand, was a mess to start last season and might be a mess to start this year too. Are you a fan of close games with lots of goals? Of course, you are!
  • You can’t find an easily accessible US pro league that looks as different game-to-game as USL League One does. There are a huge variety of play styles in the league. NTSC, relying on its comparative advantage in getting young/talented players like those mentioned above, plays an almost excessively technical, anti-physical style (see how small the roster is compared to the MLS team below). Toronto FC II goes hectic run-and-gun, no team is worse to play against than Omaha because of their kamikaze pressing, Greenville’s defense absolutely can’t be broken down, and it goes on and on. It’s the venues too! See a third-division soccer match in Gillette Stadium, or a turf rectangle next to a dump under the Toronto airport approach path, or a college prep football field in Greenville, or baseball stadiums, or lakeside resorts, etc.

If you’re interested and looking for something to get you up to speed, consider reading through our season preview series:

Offseason player movement recap and current depth chart

If you want a headache, here’s an approximation of what the NTSC depth chart looks like going into the season. It’s sorted by squad status, not by the players’ chances of playing, and anyone in green, orange, or purple will only be available for part of the season, if at all. I tried not to get too involved with the Academy names – there are another handful left off, believe it or not.

And here’s how the NTSC roster has changed this offseason to get us to the above. There are maybe a couple of players still to sign too. Notice that the club has filled every outgoing spot, and they picked up an extra winger and two defenders too. What’s the phrase? “Don’t rebuild – reload”?

Four of those additions came in the last few days: Rickson Van Hees, an 18-year-old Netherlands-Mexico-USA tri-nat fullback who you may recognize from the 2019 Nike Friendlies that Dante Sealy, Jonathan Gomez (pour one out), and Seth Wilson immolated; All Name Team candidate Caiser Gomes, a somewhat undersized 21-year-old Bissau-Guinean CB who has bounced around the lower leagues in Portugal; Rio Ramirez, a 23-year-old defender from Lamar High School in Arlington with experience in UPSL, NPSL, MASL, Germany, Denmark, and Uruguay; and finally FCD alumni GK Richard Sanchez, who was the 6th homegrown in FCD history and has since played for Tigres UANL, Chicago Fire, and most recently SKC. I have very little to say about how any of them actually play (though if you watch the second half of NTSC’s preseason game against OKC, Sanchez made some unbelievable stops), so I’ll just leave the thought that it’s better for NTSC and FCD to fill up the second team with guys like Gomes and Van Hees instead of guys like Hector Montalvo or Philip Ponder. All four newcomers joined on one-year deals, though Van Hees has an additional option year.

Starting lineup and key players

You can find my preliminary pass at the opening day starting lineup in the position group previews linked above. Obviously, some things have changed, and it’s important to remember that no one fields more players than NTSC over the course of the season – just because someone isn’t in the starting XI or on the roster on opening day doesn’t mean you won’t see them during the year.

Ok, GK’s pretty easy. Barring injury or something unexpected, it’s going to be Colin Shutler. Left-to-right across the backline, I’ve got Derek Waldeck (wearing the captain’s armband), JJ Parra (or Grady Easton or Caiser Gomes or YOU, dear reader), Alisson dos Santos, and Collin Smith. No position is a harder pick than LCB. As you can see in the depth chart above, there really isn’t a natural fit there. JJ Parra has the pedigree but hasn’t played much this preseason. Easton has, but he’s an unnatural fit in that spot. Gomes was just signed – you’d think they did that because they need him to play.

My midfield three is, from the base, Mikey Maldonado, Nicky Hernandez, and Hope. I think you’ve got to put Imanol Almaguer on the bench as a utility sub, and in this case, that’s to the benefit of Maldonado (or Alisson if they start a true CB at RCB). Nicky wasn’t named to the FCD squad against Colorado, so I expect him to get minutes with NTSC this weekend. Hope will be a staple in this squad all season.

On the wings, I’ve got “homegrown” Kalil ElMedkhar on the left and Beni Redzic on the right, though I’m probably erring by not including Gibran Rayo somewhere in there. The issue is FCD players get first dibs on playing time – what are ya gonna do? Thibaut Jacquel starts up top – he’s the best option at ST by a mile for my money.

Add that all up and you get the below. I do not envy Eric Quill’s responsibility to cut that bench down to seven names.