FRISCO, Texas – North Texas SC got revenge on Chattanooga on Saturday, winning 2-0 to avenge its 1-0 defeat two weeks earlier. In the process, it became the first team to win on the road at Chattanooga. It also marks three consecutive halves where North Texas have scored while keeping a clean sheet. Now more than ever, it is important for the team to keep up its current form.
North Texas SC has a challenging next few matches. On Thursday, it travels to Michigan for a showdown with second Lansing Ignite FC, before returning to play third place South Georgia Tormenta FC at home. This is the first time this season that North Texas have played playoff teams three games in a row. The quality of the opponent presents a new challenge, but it not the only issue North Texas have to contend with.
The last eight games for North Texas SC has been a week apart, giving the coaching staff time to scout extensively and spend a lot of time in training as preparation. But as the season speeds up and the games have more impact, the time to rest between games gets smaller. The game against Chattanooga was the start of a three-game stretch where they faced the two through four teams in 10 days. The overall schedule is more condensed as well, and on Saturday North Texas SC started a run of seven games in 28 days.
While the team have faced some injuries to key players this year, such as striker Ronaldo Damus and captain and center back Brecc Evans, many of their key players have been available for most, if not all of their matches. Fitness is now a serious issue for North Texas SC to contend with, and it has to balance making sure the players do not burn out with putting forward a strong team for every game to keep the positive momentum going.
“We have to be strategic about our loads at each practice,” said head coach Eric Quill when asked about how he is planning to deal with the scheduling demands. “Guys who just came off 90 minutes will be in a different capacity than those who didn’t play at all. We need to figure out which each guy needs so everyone has good stamina.”
One of the key staff members for Quill dealing with the issue of fitness is Ardavan Vahidtari, the Athletic Performance coach. “We do our conditioning before the season starts and we plan out our daily jobs regarding the games coming up,” Vahidtari said in regard to planning ahead of time. “We plan our session and our season physically and mentally quite early.”
North Texas SC also has something of multiple unique challenges. One of them is due to their location. “We have a different challenge because of the heat,” Vahidtari said. “We make sure that we get enough rest breaks so the players can recover. We do that in between games, an also during practices.”
“Part of our program is being a bridge between the academy and the first team,” Vahidtari said about the challenge of having a varied squad. Last week, Ricardo Pepi started at striker, and then traveled with the first team to the West Coast and was not in the squad. Vahidtari does not see this as a problem, but rather an opportunity for the coaching staff of North Texas SC, the Academy, and FC Dallas to collaborate. “We are all one team. We work together to make sure everyone is fit. I have to coordinate training with the first team and the Academy.”
The last major challenge Vahidtari isolated was working with very young players. North Texas SC regularly has an average age of under 21, as was the case with their game against Chattanooga over the weekend. “The challenge that I enjoy having is that you have young players from academy that are not really as mature as some of the first team players that come down. Most of the players in our team, it is their first time in this environment, so we push them to their best potential.”
With all of the unique fitness challenges that many other USL League 1 teams do not have to deal with, North Texas is in a difficult position. But regardless of the challenges, it will be hoping that the quality that took them to the top of the league will be enough to get them through the final stretch and into the playoffs.