FRISCO, Texas – North Texas SC's League One season begins Saturday, July 25 so now’s a good time to do a brief roster breakdown for the reigning champs.
A small disclaimer before we get started: North Texas SC has 15 contracted players and two of them (former captain Brecc Evans and last year’s League One MVP Arturo Rodriguez) are on season-long loans. The team fills out its game day rosters with players from FC Dallas’ first team and Academy, but since we don’t know who those players will be yet, this breakdown will only cover NTSC-contracted guys. Anyway, let’s get started beginning with the forward line:
Bruce is a classic #9 style striker who joined from San Antonio FC in the offseason. Not only does he have USL Championship and League One experience (with the dearly departed Lansing Ignite FC), but he also grew up playing for head coach Eric Quill at the youth level with Texans SC in Houston. So, even though he’s a new signing, his familiarity with the league and team’s play style means he’s got a great shot of starting right off the bat.
USL League One defenses couldn’t contain Damus last year as he collected the league’s inaugural Golden Boot award with 16 goals over the 28-game regular season. He began the year quietly but exploded into life once he became the focal point of the attack following Ricardo Pepi’s promotion to the FCD first team. Considering the team’s other standout performers (Evans, Rodriguez, Pepi and Carlos Avilez) have moved on to higher levels, it’s a little surprising that Damus will remain in L1 for another year, but I’m sure Eric Quill isn’t complaining. He may not reach the same heights as last season now that he’s a known quantity, but I could still see him reaching double digit goals even in a shortened season—that is unless Alex Bruce takes his starting spot.
Rayo signed with NTSC in the offseason but played 12 games and scored one goal for the team last year as an Academy player. He’s a versatile forward who can play also in an attacking midfield role. He’s obviously very talented but we maybe didn’t see it all come together in his appearances last season. He’ll probably be a starter on either of the wings this year with Damus/Bruce playing through the middle. If he can unlock his potential this year, he’ll be a difference maker in League One.
Romero is as close to a “veteran” as you’ll get with NTSC. He’s the second-oldest player on the team and made 20 appearances in L1 last year on the way to the title. Similar to Rayo, he’s able to play on either wing or in the midfield. Romero’s brilliant in tight spaces and I’ve heard Eric Quill rave about his crossing ability. Really the only thing that holds Romero back is the physical side of his game—he’s not overly quick for a winger and rarely plays the full 90 minutes. Regardless, he was a crucial part of NTSC’s playoff run last year and I’d expect him to play a similar role this time around.
While I’m listing him as a midfielder, Almaguer will likely spend as much time at fullback as he will in the midfield like he did in last year’s campaign. He joined FCD as a 9-year-old in 2010 and progressed through the Academy before signing with NTSC halfway through last season, featuring in 25 games. In addition to being versatile, “Ima” is extremely tidy in possession and is a tireless runner who’ll do whatever job Quill needs him to do. He’s not flashy but he’s definitely one of the team’s most important and consistent contributors. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Ima progresses this year.
Juan Manuel Alvarez
Juan Manuel Alvarez joins NTSC on loan from CF Monterrey in Mexico. He’s the oldest and most experienced player on the roster, having played in Liga MX and the Concacaf Champions League. He’s the team’s new captain and an athletic box-to-box midfielder who will hopefully fill the void left by Arturo Rodriguez. I’ve only seen him in two preseason games and a handful of training sessions so I can’t speak in detail to strengths and weaknesses, but his pedigree and confidence means he could be a huge player for NTSC this year.
Alisson dos Santos Correa
Alisson Santos is a steely defensive midfielder who signed from Sau Paulo FC in Brazil. He’s big, strong, physical, and can also deputize in central defense if needed. And that’s pretty much what I know about him. I think it's possible he's Eric Quill’s first-choice at the base of his midfield, but we'll really have to wait and see.
With the departure of his older brother and league MVP Arturo Rodriguez, it’s now David’s time to shine. We saw glimpses of his talent last year, but the pace and physicality of League One took its toll. Now with another year of maturation and experience, Rodriguez has an opportunity to really come into his own and become the main creative outlet for this team. His most natural position is probably a classic #10, but with few coaches utilizing that role anymore, it’s important Rodriguez develops the work rate and defensive nous necessary to play as a modern, two-way creative midfielder. Regardless, he has all technique, vision, and passing ability to become an excellent playmaker, but he’ll need to prove he can put it all together this season.
Waldeck comes to North Texas via the MLS SuperDraft. He was FC Dallas’ third-round pick this year after enjoying four standout seasons (which included two NCAA National Championships) with the Stanford Cardinals. Much like Ima Almaguer, Waldeck is comfortable playing in midfield and at fullback and will likely split time between both positions this year.
Coming from Los Angeles FC, Lamar Batista is a big acquisition for North Texas. The 6-foot-6 center back has previous USL experience with Portland Timbers 2 and FC Tucson, and he’ll likely be Quill’s anchor in central defense going forward. Batista was ranked #8 on USL’s 20 Under 20 list during his Portland days so the potential is definitely there; we’ll see if he can fulfill that with North Texas this season.
Pedro Conceição Alves
Pedro Alves is a fun fullback. The Brazilian last played in Paraguay’s top division and he absolutely loves a step-over, even in his own defensive half. While he’s flashy and forward-thinking like a winger, he has the speed and engine to track back and provide extra cover for his center backs. Alves will likely be the first-choice right back unless FCD Homegrowns Eddie Munjoma and Bryan Reynolds are sent down to NTSC for playing time.
Ponder is a former FCD Academy guy who played four seasons for the SMU Mustangs. At 6-feet tall, he’s not the biggest center back in the world but he’s a smart player and reads the game well. He’s had a few injury problems during preseason but he’s good-to-go now and will likely be Batista’s main partner in central defense.
Zamudio is the only NTSC-contracted keeper after Carlos Avilez signed a Homegrown contract with FCD last month. But I still expect Avilez to still play USL games this season. In any case, Zamudio was signed in the offseason from Club América in Mexico. While he doesn’t have much game experience, training with legendary Mexico goalie Memo Ochoa for the last year can’t hurt. Like I said, I’m confident Avilez will play for NTSC this year but I really don’t know how the play time between him and Zamudio will breakdown. We’ll have to wait and see.