FRISCO – North Texas SC completed another hurdle in its inaugural season on Saturday by winning its first-ever away game and maintaining its perfect start to the USL League One campaign with a 1-0 victory over the Greenville Triumph. The win was the club’s fourth in a row and propelled it to first place in USL League One—and with two fewer games played than its closest rivals.
While North Texas’ season has largely been defined by the emergence of 16-year-old forward Ricardo Pepi (who currently tops the scoring charts with four goals), the key to the club’s early successes is mainly down to its stingy defense that has racked up three clean sheets in the last three games and has conceded the fewest goals in the league (2).
Remarkably, head coach Eric Quill has yet to name the same back four more than once this season—making their defensive record all the more impressive. So far, three left backs, three center backs, two goalkeepers and one right back have all seen time in North Texas’ defense. While consistency is often the hallmark of great defensive partnerships, Eric Quill has been able to maintain defensive solidity despite the near-constant lineup changes.
“Having good training habits is a big part of it,” said captain and defender Brecc Evans on coping with the defensive personnel changes. “Everyone in our defense are really good players, and even if some come down from the first team and some come up from the Academy, when it’s time to perform everyone gels together. A big part of it is communication and having Carlos Avilez in goal obviously has been a huge plus making saves to go with it.”
Callum Montgomery, Evans’ center back partner for the first three games of the season, missed last Saturday’s away trip to Greenville after being included in FC Dallas’ traveling squad for its match against Houston. Instead of upsetting North Texas’ defensive rhythm, Montgomery’s absence opened the door for vice-captain Alfusainey Jatta to move from his favored defensive midfield position to lead the team from the center of defense.
Jatta impressed in his new role, making four tackles, nine clearances and winning six of his nine aerial duels to earn him his second USL League One Team of the Week honors of the season. While it was an individual recognition, Jatta was quick to credit his teammates and communication for the team’s third successive shutout on Saturday.
“I worked with Brecc, who’s a good leader, and Carlos and the rest of the back four to communicate because it was only my second time playing center back and it’s been a long time since I played there,” Jatta said. “We—the back four—and the goalkeeper are always communicating with each other and that helped us to keep the clean sheet.”
Coach Eric Quill’s ability to maintain defensive solidity with a variety of backline changes will serve North Texas well throughout this inaugural season—especially with the fluidity of players moving up and down from FC Dallas’ first-team and Academy. If the club is able to continue its peerless form over the coming months, it will likely be down to the defensive record that we’ve seen over the first four games.
“The saying goes ‘defense wins championships,’ and I think that’s very true,” Brecc Evans said. “You could have a star forward who scores three goals a game, but if you’re conceding four, you’re never going to go anywhere. Everybody works hard from the forwards down to the midfielders and the backline, and when it comes down to it you’ve got to get your hands dirty and make sure that we keep on getting the shutouts.”