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North Texas Two Step – First the Frying Pan and now the Fire

Two comfy, dominant wins for NTSC start the 2021 stretch run with pressure bearing down on both the club and its players.

Since we last met, when I suggested North Texas SC needed to win their next two games if they wanted to be taken seriously, NTSC decided to put up instead of shut up. A seemingly comfortable 2-0 win on the road at Tucson (which was the first NTX I’ve ever failed to watch – thanks to technical difficulties) followed by maybe the most dominant performance in NTX’s history, a 4-0 trash-compacting of ex-Championship club North Carolina FC. Like a morning in Arlington, however, the schedule heats up quickly. In the next two weeks, NTSC will play three road games (having failed to win a point on the road until late July) against three of the best teams in the league. Hold onto your hats.

Wow, that was an awesome performance against NCFC

Yes, North Carolina FC is pretty comfortably the worst team in the league, but holy cats did NTSC take them behind the woodshed. Did they do the usual NTSC thing and totally out-possess NCFC? No. In fact, with less than 40% possession, NTSC had less of the ball in this game than in any other over the past two seasons. What NTSC did do was anything they wanted when they had the ball. They sliced through NCFC time and again. On the other side, they almost completely prevented NCFC from doing the same, with the defensive left side of Waldeck and Salas especially expulsing all comers.

Below, you can see the shot map from the game up to Nicky’s PK goal that completed the 4-0 lead. NTSC was unbelievably successful at getting good looks from the middle of the box while totally denying NCFC any access to their penalty area.

We’ve talked before about NTSC’s tendency to get shots away inside the box at a better rate than their opponents, and this game was the zenith of that trend.

Did this happen because NTSC played a terrible NCFC team in the friendly confines of Globe Life? That’s definitely some of it, but I submit a large part of the rest came down to playing Blaine Ferri and Mikey Maldonado together in the base of midfield for the first time this year. Those two are built to break the other team with the ball. Put any four of your legion of highly effective attackers ahead of them and I predict very good things will happen.

Foreknowledge is power

I was wrong. I claimed a month ago that NTSC was likely done adding to the roster, but then, early in August, the club announced that it had gone back to the well from which Caiser Gomes sprung, signing two players from FC Alverca on loans that last through next season. Tall striker Gabriel has hit the ground running, appearing in both games since being signed, whereas defender Lucão has yet to be rostered. The way playing time has been trending, Jacquel and Bruce are going to be gone next year and NTSC is going to need a new ST, so Gabriel makes sense. Also, depending on how you categorize Maldonado, there will likely be few holdover defenders next year either, so maybe it’s good to get Lucão in early to acclimate since NTSC has struggled to gel the last two seasons.

The two new guys, despite only being signed for 18 months, have two players ahead of them on the NTSC roster in terms of contract longevity going forward. 15 of the 19 players on the roster could be gone by next season: see below. Those guys all have a half-season to prove they either deserve a shot at an FCD contract or, for those with 2022 option years, another season with the second team.

All of this comes with the context that NTSC has essentially shut Academy players out of the roster so far in 2021. Is it possible they are vetting as many older players as possible this season before clearing out the roster of all but sure-thing-contributors for the incoming wave of ‘05s and ‘06s from the Academy? One can only hope.

Speaking of hope, holy cow look at Hope’s contract! He’s a total outlier in this respect, which is good, because with Nicky, Rayo, Kazu, Bernard, and ElMedkhar all finding such fine form at the moment and the impressive Alejandro returning at some point, Hope may struggle for minutes for a while yet. That’s okay – they committed to investing this much time in him because he’s a special player, but maybe not right away.

Burnt Ends

  • Rickson Van Hees, we hardly knew ye. The tri-nat right back has left the club after only playing a few games as a substitute. Between Munjoma getting bumped to the third string with FC Dallas, Collin Smith’s continued adjustment to the position, and Almaguer, Maldonado, and Salas’ ability to cover the spot, Van Hees had virtually no path to start at RB for NTSC. Hopefully, he catches on elsewhere and flourishes. Good luck, Rickson!
  • Speaking of Collin Smith, he started at RB in this one after a month on the bench. The converted winger has a long way to go learning to be a RB, but I’ll be watching two things in particular in the near term: can he reduce the number of fouls he commits in dangerous spots for opponent set pieces? Can he improve his positioning and awareness to prevent completions in behind him?
  • Based on yells from the NTSC technical area, it appears Gabriel de Morias goes by the nickname “Gabby” and Gibran Rayo is called “Chucky”. Do with that info what you will.