FRISCO - North Texas SC has remained in the top spot for the past four weeks. It has a healthy cushion over its next two rivals and will have a chance to play those rivals at least once before the end of the season. North Texas has four home games, and for most of the season its home form has been excellent. But even with all these positives, the club is up against its toughest challenge of the season.
One challenge many North Texas SC players do not face is playing in unfamiliar surroundings. Most players have extensive experience with Toyota Stadium and the training grounds around it, having played for FC Dallas at various youth levels. The environment and the heat are nothing new to players like Arturo Rodriguez and Cesar Murillo. In fact, for some of these players, the situation they are in drives them to perform better.
“Before the game we get to sit down and see the team that we want to be at.” said North Texas SC defender Cesar Murillo when asked about playing at the professional level in Toyota Stadium. “At the end of the game a lot of fans stay and support us because we are supposed to be the upcoming FC Dallas players. Playing at Toyota Stadium is a lot of fun.”
North Texas SC is in a unique position: competing for a title in its inaugural season. There is not a learning curve, and the players have responded with a strong season so far. “The competitiveness I’ve played with my whole life is there,” Murllio said. “The desire to win is up a level. It’s a great environment for me to improve my game.”
North Texas SC has certainly been competitive. Before July 7, NTSC had never been shutout and had only lost two games, including seven consecutive wins at home. But since a 0-0 draw with Greenville Triumph, it has lost three of its last four while going scoreless.
“Once we get that first goal, the rest will be right behind it. We are still confident that we can score enough to win,” said Murillo when asked about NTSC’s struggles in front of goal.
The scoreless streak has featured a variety of new tests for the team. Chief among those challenges have been its first two red cards. NTSC had not had a dismissal in the previous 16 games. Before the red cards, it also was second best in the league in terms of fewest yellow cards, and sixth out of 10 in regard to total fouls.
NTSC then had its first red cards of the season in back to back games. “The new challenge is being able to defend. When we play 11 vs 11 we are very solid, but we have to be defensive and make sure everyone is doing their job before we go forward. Sometimes we forget that,” Murillo explained. “We need to be especially tough in defense.”
Head coach Eric Quill shared much the same sentiment.
"They happened in really close proximity, so it retriggers the brain, makes you remember that defending is really important when you get a red card," he said. "I thought we defended well, and we controlled the game even when we were down a man.”
Even down a man for the last 20 minutes, NTSC emerged with the lion’s share of possession at 62%.
NTSC has had excellent possession numbers, even if its performance has dropped. “We have nothing to show for it,” Quill said in regard to their possession statistics. “We need to get shots off. That’ s where my real issue comes from. I don’t mind not scoring goals if I feel like we have peppered the keeper and made him make saves, but we are being too generic in the final third.”
The pressure is certainly affecting NTSC as its scoring struggles started after it staked its biggest lead in the table, but it has not led to the harsher discipline record.
“I don’t think pressure has anything to do with it,” Quill said. “That’s not even a thought or a concern. I think it just unlucky that it happened in back to back games.”
The pressure on NTSC is rising, but the team has team has the talent and temperament to rise above it. It would not be a surprise to see NTSC return to winning and scoring ways against FC Tucson on Saturday, August 10 at Toyota Stadium.