FRISCO - During its last match against FC Tucson which ended in a 1-1 draw, North Texas SC found something that had alluded them for almost a month: a goal. That goal was the result of half an hour of constant pressure filled with incisive passing and attacking intent. It was only bad luck that stopped NTSC from taking the lead, as it created two other chances after Arturo Rodriguez equalized in the 79th minute.
In its previous two games, North Texas was actually outshot, something that was incredibly rare over the first half of the season. But after a halftime team talk by Eric Quill, NTSC was clearly galvanized and took total control in the second half. Along with its customary lion’s share of possession, NTSC had 19 shots to the 11 for FC Tucson. North Texas' shooting accuracy was also better, and they had seven shots on target as opposed to four for Tucson. If this is a sign of things to come, an uptick in offensive ability will be key given the upcoming opponents.
North Texas is going into a three-game stretch that will go a long way in determining its season. First is a return to Chattanooga where it lost last week, to face a Red Wolves team that has not lost at home, before going to Michigan to take on second-place Lansing who has not lost in eight games. NTSC end August at home against South Georgia Tormenta FC, who hold the best defensive record in USL League One.
“This is make or break,” said Head Coach Eric Quill when asked about the upcoming run of games. “Not only just making the playoffs, but also where we finish and how we finish the rest of the season. You are not going to find more motivation than these three games because of the opponents.”
For a team that has been top of the league since the second week, the playoffs are now the minimum expectation. “It is crucially important we make the playoffs given where we have been all year long,” Quill explained. “The urgency is at its highest, and we want to rise to the challenge.”
The scorer of the most recent goal Arturo Rodriguez was named to the team of the week for a sixth time due to his performance. This selection only highlights how good Rodriguez has been for NTSC, leading the team in minutes, chances created, and assists. His performance in the second half against Tucson was brilliant, as he created four chances in one half and had two shots. That is a direct contrast to his performance against Chattanooga, where he did not record a shot or create a chance in 40 minutes.
“We had more arrivals in the box, we played more balls into the box, and we had more of an urgency and a hunger,” Quill said when describing the second half against Tucson. “It was a we don’t want to lose mentality that had not been there for the last few weeks. We got in the areas we are accustomed to being in. We looked more like the team that was on top of the standings earlier this season.”
Although Chattanooga are not the most free scoring and attacking team, a visit from league leading NTSC will be of note for the Red Wolves with a chance to send a message that their recent surge to third is not a fluke. The fact that Chattanooga may come out and attack is something Quill saw in Tucson, saying “Tucson pressed a little more and stretched themselves a little more. Any team that does that against us, we are going to get our chances and if we take them we can play with anyone.”
There is a slight worry that the defensive solidity that Chattanooga has built will be a tough challenge, even if the offense is starting to go up in gears. “Chattanooga will not come out and play,” Quill said. “Chattanooga parks the bus. They will not come out and pressure our center backs, they will make our center backs dictate the game which is a difficult challenge.”
Although the next few games are daunting, there is no sense that NTSC is looking too far ahead. “We don’t worry about the next few games, or say we want a certain amount of points from a stretch of games,” Quill said. “For us, it is all about going out every day and leaving it all on the field. All our focus is on going into Chattanooga and making sure that when we leave there are no teams with an undefeated home record.”
The next game and the schedule might be getting tough for NTSC, but it’s certainly possible that NTSC is facing its toughest opponents at exactly the right time.