Since we last spoke, NTSC got a dramatic late draw against TFC2, took a two-week break, and then beat one of the best teams in the league comfortably with an FCD-influenced lineup. With these results, NTSC sits slightly above mid-table on points-per-game, and the next three games are against teams further down the list.
What was different against Greenville this time around?
On May 1, NTSC went to Greenville and got summarily whupped, 4-0. This Sunday, they played Greenville in Arlington and won going away, 3-0. What difference between the games led to the seven-goal swing? Here’s some data. Hypotheses to follow.
The following are not mutually exclusive.
- Kalil ElMedkhar and Bernard pinned back GVL’s fullbacks. Tyler Polak was the best player on the field in the May matchup. He and Abdi Muhammad combined with GVL’s midfield to mostly stifling any attempt of NTSC’s to break through the middle third. In this Sunday’s game, KEM and Bernard (in contrast to Hope and Rayo) played the wing position high and wide, pulling GVL’s bodies out of the middle of the park, opening space for NTSC’s midfield and striker to operate. Bernard especially harassed Polak all game. The Tanzanian is in great form at the moment.
- The weather slowed down the game. At kickoff on Sunday, it was 97 degrees at DFW airport, and the game was played at the bottom of a stadium bowl. At kickoff in May, it was 76 degrees at Greenville-Spartanburg airport, and the game was played in an open high school soccer ground. Greenville couldn’t muster the energy to pin NTSC back.
- Quill prioritized “small field” players in his back six. Waldeck and Maldonado are naturally CMs – Kazu and Smith are natural wingers. Cerrillo’s biggest strength with the ball is finding small spaces to receive it and playing out swiftly and simply. Bringing those players further back helped NTSC to mostly sidestep any pressure GVL brought, making a much more comfortable game for NTSC.
- NTSC’s CBs did a much better job of closing space around NTSC’s goal. Tafari did not have a perfect game by any means, but the difference between him and Gomes back there compared to Alisson and Maldonado is stark. It’s almost like two were trained as CBs and two were trained as CMs! Also, Cerrillo had a great game protecting against cutbacks in the box.
- NTSC finally got on the right side of the game state. This match against Greenville was the first game this season where NTSC’s opponent didn’t score the first goal. Being in control of the game state leads to all kinds of nice benefits.
- The finishing luck swung NTSC’s way. Per ASA, an average team taking NTSC’s shots from Sunday would have outscored GVL (given GVL’s shots) by about 0.4 goals. Instead, NTSC won by three. Per ASA, an average team taking NTSC’s shots from the game in May would have been outscored by GVL (given GVL’s shots) by about 0.8 goals. Instead, NTSC lost by four. Soccer can be a wild mistress.
In general, GVL couldn’t put NTSC under as much pressure in June as in May, and NTSC dealt with what little pressure there was better this time around. Mixed with some solid mid- and low-block defending and some finishing luck, and I think that’s the difference.
Cerrillo stan signing on
I’ve got a list going of young players affiliated with FC Dallas that I love to watch play the game. They’re not necessarily the highest potential players (some are), but I still get excited when they play. Edwin Cerrillo is at the very top of that list. What a smooth, elegant player – he’s building towards the embodiment of Cruyff’s famous quote: “Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.” I love how he hunts for space and covers ground.
In his first game with NTSC this season, Cerrillo ran the midfield: collecting loose balls, spraying the rock around, putting GVL players on the ground when needed, protecting his defenders, combing under pressure. Check out the highlights. He’s #33.
It’s not all roses. Cerrillo has played a little more than 1100 minutes in USL1 over the last three years, about 12 games, and has earned three red cards. That’s an unacceptable rate for any player, much less someone in his role on the field. Also, I’d like to see him be a bit more incisive with the ball, both carrying and passing. With FCD bringing a new DM onboard, Cerrillo should be loaned with a right-to-recall to a USL-C club in need of a DM upgrade (FC Tulsa? Oakland Roots? San Diego Loyal?) for the rest of the year to get minutes at a better level than USL1.
Maybe his trajectory won’t be to the top of the game in Europe, but Cerrillo has the ability and the quality to be a real player for FCD for a long time.
- Incumbent Derek Waldeck continues to get most of the minutes at LB, but Kazu has shown some really interesting flashes of potential. One thing I noticed specifically in his start against TFC2 was his ability to progress the ball up the wing with clever one-touch passes (two examples among many in the comp below). How will that position battle play out this season?
- In alumni news, Arturo Rodriguez and Ronaldo Damus are starting to get theirs in the USL Championship with their new clubs. Damus, playing for Orange County SC in place of the injured Adam Jahn, has three goals and an assist, and one of the best xG+xA rates in the league. Arturo Rodriguez, meanwhile, picked up two assists off the bench in juggernaut Phoenix Rising’s wild comeback against San Diego Loyal – he’s got two MVP-caliber players in front of him on the depth chart in Solomon Asante and Santi Moar, but when he’s been on the field A-Rod has looked like his usual livewire self.
- Eric Quill normally wears a team polo and jeans on the sidelines. If it’s not that, it’s a nondescript sweater for colder matches. Against Greenville? The plain white tee. The matching vans. The international-break beard. This is a man that is comfortable in his role and his native suavity. Go for it, Eric. Go for it.