The flamingos of forward Madison FC travel to Frisco to take on USL League One regular-season champions North Texas SC in the USL League One Semi-Final.
Date: Saturday, October 12th
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Location: Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
How to Watch: ESPN+
This will be the fifth match-up between North Texas SC and Forward Madison in the 2019 season. With only 10 teams in USL1 for 2019, each team played one another three times and each team having a team they were paired with to play a 4th matchup. NTSC and FMFC were paired up for the inaugural USL1 season and “El Plastico” was created. The teams split the season series with two wins apiece, both clubs winning their home match-ups. Most recent was a match-up in Madison on September 22nd that ended with a 1-0 victory for the Flamingos.
Forward Madison finished the season in the 4th and final playoff spot with 43 points from a 12-7-9 record. Their 26 goals conceded was good enough for 2nd best in the league but their 33 goals was decidedly middle of the pack. Much like Greenville Triumph, who finished with the same point total as Madison but edged the Flamingos for the 3rd spot on goal difference, Madison relied on a stellar defense, giving up less than a goal per game, to get to the playoffs. Madison also enters the playoffs in good form, they are undefeated in their past 5 games and have three clean sheets, all 1-0 victories, in that stretch. The Flamingos haven’t been fantastic on the road with only a 5-4-5 record, although their good run of form to close the season carried over to their road-specific form and they were undefeated in their last 5 away games on the season.
North Texas SC ended the season as regular-season champions and they were quite dominant in doing so. They ended the season with a 17-5-6 record for 56 points, 10 points clear of second-place Lansing Ignite and 16 points clear of Chattanooga Red Wolves, the highest finisher outside of the playoffs. NTSC topped the league with 53 goals scored, almost 2 per game, while only conceding 31, 3rd best behind the previously mentioned Greenville Triumph and Forward Madison.
Like the Flamingos, NTSC also enters the semi-final on a run of good form, having won 6 out of their last 7 games and outscoring their opponents 19-4 in the process. NTSC also thrived at home throughout the year only dropping all three points on one occasion and drawing the opposition 3 other times for a 10-3-1 home record.
North Texas SC
North Texas SC’s lineup has been notoriously difficult to predict. This lineup is unchanged from the lineup that played FC Tucson on the last day of the regular season and won 3-1. Defender Callum Montgomery, midfielders Edwin Cerrillo, Thomas Roberts and winger Dante Sealy are all on loan from FC Dallas while Kevin Bonilla and Jonathan Gomez have yet to actually be signed to USL or MLS contracts.
Notable absences here are USL League One leading scorer Ronaldo Damus, who is on international duty with Haiti, and Ricardo Pepi, who will be in U-17 US Youth National team camp. Oscar Romero has typically been deployed as a winger but after a brace against FC Tucson and the absence of other options up top, he retains his spot for the semi-final match-up.
Forward Madison FC
This lineup is unchanged from the lineup that went to Lansing to defeat the Ignite 1-0 to close out the regular season. That was a must-win game for the Flamingos and it stands to reason that head coach Daryl Shore will stick with the same group that got themselves to the playoffs in the first place. Defenders Carter Manley and Wyatt Omsberg are on loan from MLS side Minnesota United.
Veteran winger Don Smart has been Madison’s best option going forward, leading the club with 7 goals while Brazilian Paulo Junior on the opposite wing leads the team with 5 assists. If Madison hopes to get past NTSC in Frisco, they’ll need big performances from their wingers.
Keys to the Match
1) Be Patient
Madison had the second-best defense in USL League One and has been especially stingy as of late. Away from home against NTSC’s high flying offense, they are certain to set up in a deep block and look to play on the counter. NTSC’s young attackers must stay patient and keep plugging away to get quality chances in front of goal. What they must avoid is the temptation to start bombing more and more players forward in efforts to break through the Flamingos’ backline and leave themselves susceptible to the counter. Stay patient and play the game that has led them to be the highest-scoring team in the league and the opportunities will present themselves.
2) Sharpness at the Back
The likely center back pairing will consist of Callum Montgomery and Brecc Evans and the pair will need to be sharp and focused throughout the game. Chances are a large part of their games will be involving themselves in the build-up and recycling the ball as NTSC attempts to break through the backline. They, along with the defensive midfielder, like Edwin Cerrillo, must be careful and assured on the ball to avoid any turnovers in bad places. The NTSC full-backs will push high up the pitch, as they’ve done all season, so a turnover at the back could spell disaster, as it has at times throughout the season.
3) Enjoy It!
This is a team full of teenagers getting to play in the first-ever edition of the USL League One playoffs and have a chance to bring home a trophy in North Texas SC’s first-ever season and play a championship game at their home field. As seriously as they need to take this, they need to be able to get out and enjoy themselves. Throughout the season, NTSC has been an absolute joy to watch going forward. With so many dynamic, promising and talented attacking players, its no coincidence or accident that they’ve been so successful in front of goal and have torn apart USL1 defenses all season long. If the players can go out and enjoy themselves, good things will happen.
Will North Texas SC get past the Flamingos from Madison and host the inaugural USL League One Championship game? Who will get the start in NTSC’s first-ever playoff game? Sound off in the comments below!
Featured Image: Matt Begala