Fall has arrived in North Texas as the temperatures begin to drop. With the fall comes playoff season and North Texas Soccer Club had its first playoff game against Forward Madison FC in the semifinals of USL League One.
It was winner take all and in a “rivalry” match dubbed El Plastico, North Texas SC brought out the big guns with 7 MLS players. It was the fifth meeting between the two teams where each team had two home wins against each other.
North Texas SC came out with lots of energy and confidence in the opening 10 minutes of the match. That energy began to fall away as the half progressed as Forward Madison settled in a mid to low-block that has been famously employed against North Texas SC at home. Things got heated between the teams with each team finishing the first half with 2 yellow cards.
Forward Madison was threatening on their counterattacks and created a total of 4 chances to North Texas SC’s 2 chances. Madison preferred to attack via the flanks and had 5 crosses in the first half that did give the North Texas defense some trouble. Jimmy Maurer proved to be a big hero for North Texas SC with 4 saves in the first half.
Despite the attacking threat that North Texas SC faced from Forward Madison, North Texas came away with 71.9% of the possession, 322 passes, and an 84.2% pass accuracy. The first half was not the performance that North Texas SC fans, players, and coaches wanted to replicate and the break at halftime was an opportunity for the players to change that.
The second half began with Forward Madison FC pressing the ball deep in the North Texas SC half. North Texas SC responded with quicker passing and played with more verticality. North Texas SC continued with their strong attack presence throughout the half and it felt that it was only a matter of time before the home side earned their first goal. Oscar Romero came in as Eric Quill’s first sub of the evening as he replaced Ronaldo Damus on the right-wing moving Ricardo Pepi to the center of the attack.
Romero made his presence felt immediately as he gave the Madison defense trouble. As a result, Ricardo Pepi found the ball on the top of the box and shot through bodies to break the deadlock and score the first goal of the game. Moments later, Ricardo Pepi headed in the second goal from Oscar Romero’s cross from the right side of the field to double North Texas’ lead.
North Texas SC only needed two goals to down Forward Madison FC and secure their spot in the first USL League One Final.
When it comes to North Texas SC, they tend to play two different styles of games in each half. Their semifinal match was no different as North Texas came out in the opening 10 minutes with much energy but fell away as the half progressed. This allowed Forward Madison FC to play a threatening counterattacking game.
“Frustrating first half, their pressing with their forwards and being really compact, it was tough to break them down,” midfielder Edwin Cerrillo told the media after the game. “We were forcing things and being caught a couple times. The ball movement was not up to speed as we wanted, and that’s the big message we got in halftime.”
After a break at halftime, North Texas SC’s coaching got to work with their young team and explained to the players want needed to change in the second half. The players responded to the message that Eric Quill and his staff gave the team as they came out with the same energy and intensity that began the first half. What was different in the second half was how much the North Texas players grew as the half wore on.
North Texas SC’s attacking presence increased which forced Forward Madison to play deeper in their half and thus afforded North Texas more space to created attacking opportunities. Full-backs Bryan Reynolds and Johnny Nelson made their way further up the field to provided support to the creative midfield players of Imanol Almaguer and Thomas Roberts while combining with wingers Arturo Rodriguez and Ronaldo Damus.
“When road teams come in, the longer they stick around the more confidence they get and they had some quality chances in the first half on the counter,” Head Coach Eric Quill said after the match. “Again, we don’t want teams to start to feel comfortable or gain any sort of confidence, so we need to really impose our style, and our demeanor is to pounce and suffocate. So we changed our attitude in the second half and became who we have been more most of the year.”
Meaning of the Game
Credit must be given to Eric Quill and his staff for how they approached this game and prepared their young team for the semifinal match. The average age of the North Texas SC starting lineup was 20.3 years old compared to Forward Madison FC’s 26.3 years old. While it does help to have 7 MLS contracted players in the starting eleven, those players have gotten most of their minutes with North Texas SC. Eric Quill and his coaching staff have a squad that is bursting with talent and potential.
“The number one thing for me that I want to see is the ability to compete physically in the aerial duels or those ground tackles when they have to get in those body matchups, what is the mentality like?” Eric Quill said after being asked the importance of this game for the young squad. “Are they being bounced softly, do we want to compete, do we want to be the first to the ball, do we want to initiate contact, that’s the biggest thing with young kids. Learning how to initiate contact and get in position is so crucial.”
Not only did this team initiate contact but they responded and outplayed their competition. The preparation was there but so was the determination to overcome the experience and physical advantage that Forward Madison had. This win and in the manner that the North Texas SC players did it in not only gives the players the confidence to compete in a final but also speaks to the growth that the coaching staff has made.
The injection Oscar Romero into the game, after coming off a brace in his last game, by Eric Quill and his staff gave the extra attacking force that his team needed.
“Once they brought Romero in and put Ricardo into his natural number nine position, he was able to find a couple of players and make the players,” Head Coach Daryl Shore said after the match.
“I thought Oscar Romero came on and everything naturalized themselves, and Oscar is a heck of a delivery guy,” Eric Quill said about the performance of Romero.
Coach Quill had the option of midfielder Tanner Tessman who can be a serious attacking threat with his passing combination with other players but also has displayed strong defensive capabilities. A Tessman substitution could’ve provided a nice balance between a strong attacking and defensive substitution given how North Texas needed a goal and could then transition into a more defensive game-plan after scoring.
Eric Quill knew what his options were and felt that Oscar Romero was the needed first sub into the game that change paid off. Coach Quill and his staff did well to not only prepare the North Texas players, but he also did well to read how the game was progressing and made the necessary adjustments.
The Next Game
North Texas SC is going to play in the first USL League One Final (the official title of the championship game) with a team consisting of mostly young players that have come through the FC Dallas Academy. For many of these players, it is a special moment to play in a professional playoff match with people they have grown up playing soccer with.
“A lot of these guys have been in the academy with me, so playing with them in the professional level and winning and nights like these are unforgettable,” Edwin Cerrillo explained. “Being at this stage with a lot of my friends from the academy is pretty special.”
“I grew up with those kids and I know all of them,” forward Ricardo Pepi said. “I think that the chemistry is right there and the brotherhood we just have it. I think that the steps that we took when we were starting at the Academy to know are very big steps and we want to keep it going.”
While the win in the semifinals is a happy moment for the players and the coaches, they know that they haven’t made it all the way. North Texas SC will play against Greenville Triumph SC who have shutout North Texas SC both times at home. The team’s focus now is directed at their next opponent and wanting to win the inaugural League One Final trophy on home territory in front of their fans.
“Greenville is excellent defensively,” Eric Quill said about North Texas SC’s opponent in the final. “They are the best defensive team in the league by stats. They shift really hard horizontally across the field. We are a more vertical pressing team that presses outwardly. They will sit in and they’ll make it difficult to play in windows and find combinations. They are waiting to find their one or two chances…It’s going to be a night where we are going to have to find a lot of solutions of high caliber to break them down.”
North Texas SC will play against Greenville Triumph SC at Toyota Stadium on Saturday, October 19th at 6:00 PM. Tickets are being sold for $12 each (including ticket price and fees) and this is an opportunity for fans to watch North Texas SC compete for the inaugural USL League One Trophy after becoming the Regular Season Champions.
This match will happen after the conclusion of FC Dallas’ playoff match against the Seattle Sounders.
Featured Image: North Texas SC