Professional soccer makes it return to the DFW Metroplex this weekend as North Texas SC begins their title defense campaign against “El Plastico” rivals Forward Madison FC.

Match Information

  • Date: July 25, 2020
  • Time: 8 PM CST
  • Location: GlobeLife Park, Arlington, Texas
  • How to Watch: ESPN+

Almost four months after their planned start, North Texas SC will finally begin their USL League One title defense campaign against forwarding Madison on Saturday, July 25th.

In addition to kicking off the 2020 season for NTSC, this will also be Madison’s first game of their 2020 campaign and will also be the first match played at NTSC’s new home, GlobeLife Park in Arlington, the former home of the Texas Rangers. Perhaps controversially, fans will be allowed to attend, albeit in a limited capacity and with certain protocols needing to be met.

With that in mind, this weekend’s match will mark only the fifth professional team sports event held in Texas since the COVID pandemic shutdown, following home matches for El Paso Locomotive, RGV Toros, and Austin Bold in the USL Championship.

It will also mark the first professional team sporting event held in the DFW Metroplex since the COVID shutdown and the return of the FC Dallas organization to competitive play following FCD’s removal from the MLS is Back Tournament following a COVID outbreak among the players and staff.

This match will mark the sixth matchup between the two sides in what has become known as “El Plastico” after the clubs were paired up as “rivals” for the inaugural USL League One season, playing four times in the regular season and once in the playoffs. To this point, this matchup has been dominated by the home side, with North Texas winning all three matchups, including the playoff matchup, at home by a combined score of 6-1, and Forward Madison winning their two home matches by a combined score of 5-1.

In terms of the overall picture, Forward Madison was undoubtedly the big success story of the inaugural USL League One season, creating a brand that resonated not only in their home town but across the country and even internationally with their unique kits, creative marketing strategies, and on-field success, having finished the regular season in a playoff position. They will certainly be looking to make a big statement against their League One rivals and the dominant force from 2019 in North Texas SC.

Projected Lineups

North Texas SC

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In all honesty, North Texas SC’s opening day lineup is going to be very difficult to predict. With no media presence in training and no real preseason to speak of, we really have very little idea of what Eric Quill is thinking in terms of his lineup for opening day. After quite a bit of roster turnover from 2019 to 2020, with key contributors like Alfusainey Jatta, Brecc Evans, and 2019 USL League One MVP Arturo Rodriguez all no longer part of the team.

This lineup only has one player coming down from the first team in goalkeeper Carlos Avilez, but it would not be surprising at all to see some other young homegrowns such as Thomas Roberts, Eddie Munjoma or Edwin Cerrillo come down and play in NTSC’s season opener. But for my prediction, new faces abound. The entire backline is changed from the usual suspects in 2019. 6’6″ center back Lamar Batista pairs with former FCD academy player Phillip Ponder in central defense, while FC Dallas 2020 SuperDraft pick Derek Waldeck slots in at left-back opposite Brazilian full-back Pedro Conceição Alves (listed as Pedrinho on the USL League One website). The new faces continue in the midfield as new signings Alisson dos Santos Correa and Juan Manuel Alvarez start at the 6 and 8 in midfield respectively. Both players have been noted as versatile players, being able to slot in at center back as well, so don’t be surprised to see either of them pop up there for the season opener or later in the season. We finally reach a familiar face in 18-year old David Rodriguez in the attacking midfield role. The younger brother of Arturo, David will look to have an increased role and fill his brother’s shoes as the primary playmaker in midfield.

The forward line looks far more familiar with veteran (in NTSC terms) Oscar Romero reprising his right-wing role opposite 2019 USL League One top scorer Ronaldo Damus on the left-wing. Damus was a regular up top but he shifts to the wing to make room for striker Alex Bruce, signed in the offseason from Lansing Ignite. Bruce and head coach Eric Quill have a history with Quill having coached Bruce during his youth days playing in Houston. Unlike NTSC’s regular forwards in 2019, Damus and Ricardo Pepi, Bruce is more of a post-up target forward who will look to use his abilities to lay the ball off for his fellow attackers and midfielders and finish chances in the box. One way or another, we will certainly be seeing a very different looking North Texas SC in 2020.

Forward Madison FC

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As is the case with most lower league teams in the US (and worldwide really), Forward Madison also saw plenty of roster turnover from 2019. As well as the roster turnover, Madison doesn’t currently have any players down on loan from Minnesota United, something they did with regularity in 2019 as those players helped pad out their roster. In all honesty, I don’t know a ton about Madison’s roster, though there are quite a few familiar faces here. Conor “Turbo” Tobin is the veteran leader on this squad and he retains his place as the anchor in defense along with returning left-back Cristian Diaz. Defensive midfielder Eric Leonard retains his place along with Madison native JC Banks in midfield. Paulo Junior and Jiro Barriga Toyama maintain their spots on either wing, flanking Madison’s big offseason acquisition, 6’4″ striker Wojciech Wojcik, signed from USL Championship side Hartford Athletic. Whatever lineup head coach Daryl Shore goes with, Madison will likely retain the aspects of what made them so tough in 2019, a strong and organized defense with attackers that are capable of special moments.

Three Keys to the Match

1) Shake off the Rust

Let’s be very clear, this game is going to be a bit messy. None of these players have played competitive soccer for the better part of 9 months and have spent a large chunk of time in recent months stuck in quarantine without access to proper training facilities or even their fellow teammates and coaching staff. Both teams have only resumed full team training in the past few weeks.

Players are not going to be fully fit and there’s going to be a lack of polish for both teams. Whichever team can shake this off quicker and cut down on the mistakes that will inevitably happen is going to be in great shape to come away with the 3 points.

2) Adjust to the New Squad

NTSC had a very large turnover of players from 2019 to 2020, with numerous key players departing the club or going out on loan. With limited training time together, it will be crucial for this young squad to come together and gel quickly if they hope to both starts the 2020 campaign off with a victory and defend their 2019 title.

The way that some of the returning stars such as Ronaldo Damus are able to mix in with fresh faces like Alex Bruce in the attack, as well as how these players will work in with any players called up from the academy or brought down from the first team will be crucial to how the team performs over the course of the season.

3) Take Advantage of the Conditions

The game starts at 8 PM to avoid some of the worst of the Texas summer, but Forward Madison is surely at a disadvantage coming down to Arlington to play during the peak of the Texas heat. To be clear, it is almost impossible to truly get comfortable playing in these kinds of conditions, but NTSC should be more acclimated to the weather than Madison and this should help them as the game moves into its final stages.

If the game is still in the balance in the last 15-20 minutes, look for NTSC to push Madison hard as the temperatures continue to hover around 90 degrees.

Do you plan on attending the first North Texas SC matchup of 2020? How do you feel about the move to Arlington and GlobeLife Park?
Will NTSC pull off another USL League One title this season?

Featured Image: North Texas SC/Jack Wallace
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