FRISCO, Texas – With North Texas SC's preseason just over a week away, we caught up with head coach Eric Quill to see how he's gearing up for the team's second season. With a lot of player turnover in the off season, we checked in to see how Quill is rebuilding his squad which will defend the inaugural USL League One title.
“It’s been a fun project and one that we sort of welcome,” he said. “That is sort of our model. We don’t expect lifelong second team players here, so we know that the goal is to move people on and have them be ready for that next stage in their careers.”
Jan. 14 represented one of the first major days of the project. The club signed a number of players, including Philip Ponder from SMU, Gibran Rayo from the Academy and three international players (Juan Manuel Alvarez, Pedro Conceição Alves and Alisson dos Santos Correa). For Quill, squad depth and competition for roster spots is key for the upcoming campaign.
“We’re going to have more players than last year, so it will be different having some more consistency in our locker room,” Quill said. “I think it is a positive. The guys we signed are difference makers. These guys are [players] that, in three months, six months or a [years’ time] can be playing for FC Dallas or beyond.”
With Conceição, Quill feels the club has found a quality outside back who can help fill the holes left when players may be called up to the senior team. Last season, Reggie Cannon's involvement with the National Team meant call-ups for Bryan Reynolds.
“Obviously, we were really thin at outside back last season when Bryan Reynolds would go up to the first team,” he said. “We really needed to make sure there was a consistent role there at outside back, so we went with [Conceição]. He’s a guy that is an attack-minded player, which we like at that role.”
A major part of the rebuild will be finding the next leader. With Brecc Evans’ loan move to Austin Bold FC recently going through, Quill knows the job will not be an easy one but is happy for the defender that helped the team achieve a grand finish to 2019.
“I think this is the right move for Brecc,” he said. “I’ll be watching, and FC Dallas will be as well, because the hope is that he grows this year and if center back becomes a need, he’s the first call.”
Although the FC Dallas senior team departed for San Diego Thursday afternoon, the North Texas SC players have had plenty of opportunities to take part in the busy preseason training schedule. On Wednesday, a handful of North Texas SC and Academy players had a wonderful chance to showcase their development, as they joined a number of FC Dallas draftees in taking on NTX Rayados in a preseason friendly. Moments like these are important for Quill and his players, as they aim to build upon last season’s success.
“The physical base [the players] are able to accumulate during the week [is great],” Quill said. “It gives them a lot more confidence.”
The squad comfortably won the match 3-0, with Arturo Rodriguez scoring the first goal from the penalty spot. Beyond the scoresheet, there were certainly a few players who also caught the coach’s eye.
“I thought Cal Jennings did really well and showed some great moments of agility to hold guys off,” Quill said. “He was really impressive in the final 30 yards of the field.”
A certain 16-year-old perhaps shined the brightest, though.
“I thought Justin Che really stood out,” Quill said. “You would think he’s been playing for three years in the professional league because he was so calm and collected.”
The defender, who still competes in the Academy, may get the chance to showcase his skills for North Texas SC this season.
“I just think he has a great future,” Quill said. “I’m looking forward to working with Justin and having him in our second team this year.”
As we inch closer to the first match of the 2020 season, an away fixture against Tormenta FC on Mar. 28, the team is also looking forward to playing in a new home, Globe Life Park.
While the first two home matches of the season will take place on the Toyota Stadium pitch, May 3 is a day that Quill is excited for. The coach recently had the chance to tour the complex and take in the former home of MLB’s Texas Rangers.
“I was really amazed walking in there,” Quill said. “I didn’t feel like baseball had been played there. It felt like a soccer stadium … I think the size of the field fits our style of play. So, it just had a unique feel that, for me, raises some excitement and anticipation for the first game.”