Soccer: Analyzing North Texas SC’s first big road trip

North Texas SC is three games into a four-game road trip, their longest stretch away from Toyota Stadium this season. They haven’t played a home game since the 3-1 win over Forward Madison on May 22, and won’t be back home again until June 25. 

With three results in the books, let’s take a look at how North Texas is faring in other stadiums.

Toronto FC II – May 29

First up, North Texas traveled to Toronto for the first time, taking on Toronto FC II on May 29th at the BMO Training Ground. At that point, North Texas had dropped just two points all season, in a draw in Lansing, while Toronto FC II sat further down the table in the good-not-great territory.

Thanks to a lack of depth with the first team, Coach Eric Quill was forced to rotate more heavily and lean into an even younger squad than normal. Alfusainey Jatta filled in for an injured Brecc Evans at center back, leaving Bicou Bissainthe to play the primary holding midfield role. U17 defender Jonathan Gomez, who’s still 15 and won’t be 16 until September, made his professional debut starting and playing the full 90 as a left back.

Toronto jumped out to an early lead, scoring just 12 minutes in against an inexperienced back line, and doubled their lead in the 26th minute. Ricardo Pepi clawed one back for North Texas in first-half added time, leaving Toronto up by one entering the break.

North Texas came out strong in the second half, with Ronaldo Damus tying things up at 56′ with his third goal of the season. Going into the latter stages of the match, North Texas held the possession advantage, but fell victim to Toronto’s offside trap, and struggled to maintain possession in the final third. A goal from Terique Mohammed in the 77′ meant North Texas lost its first game.

Richmond Kickers – June 1

Three days later, North Texas traveled to Richmond to take on the Kickers in the first of three meetings this season. Coach Quill rolled out a nearly identical formation as the prior game with Cesar Murillo replacing Callum Montgomery, Arturo Rodriguez back in midfield, and Dante Sealy at left wing. Even with Jatta in the back line once again, this lineup clicked out of the gate.

North Texas kept the pressure on Richmond from kickoff, leading to Sealy tapping in a ball from Damus for his first professional goal. In the second half, North Texas was increasingly physical, leading to yellow cards for both Sealy and Jatta, but managed to keep Richmond scoreless. In the 63rd minute,  Pepi scored an early candidate for goal of the year, booting the ball into the top right corner from more than 20 yards out. Five minutes later, David Rodriguez sealed the game with his second goal of the season, banging home a pass from Sealy.

Hector Montalvo finally made his North Texas debut, although he played just one minute of regulation and second-half stoppage time, coming on for Jatta in the 89th minute. It’s not nearly enough time to evaluate his performance, and that remains the only official minute he’s played.

Toronto FC II – June 12

The third game of the road trip saw North Texas return to Toronto two weeks after their first defeat. Once again, Coach Quill leaned on the academy kids, with three starting and three coming off the bench.  Evans returned to the starting lineup after five games away, starting alongside Montgomery.  Damus got the start up top in what has normally been Pepi’s spot, as Pepi was busy preparing for his first-team debut with FC Dallas in the US Open Cup that same night.

Damus played one of the most incredible halves I’ve ever seen from a young forward, scoring the opener in the 6′, and needing just 27 minutes from there to complete a hat trick. Griffin Dorsey brought one back for Toronto in the 44, giving North Texas a 3-1 lead at halftime.

At the start of the second half, Toronto made two substitutions to try and break up North Texas’s control of midfield, bringing on Franco Ramos Mingo and Tsubasa Endoh, and immediately looked better. Toronto dominated the second half, thanks to both to their substitutions and to North Texas bringing on U17 academy defender Nico Carrera in the 67th minute.

Carrera looked about as strong as a U17 player making their professional debut can reasonably hope to, but the back line just wasn’t as stable with him instead of Evans. This helped Toronto get their second goal in the 73′, and Toronto followed that with a game-tying goal in added time to secure a point at home.

Road Trip Lessons

All said, four points from three road games is not bad by any stretch, especially considering how good this Toronto FC II side has become entering the summer months. 

While Coach Quill was undoubtedly disappointed with the first loss and draw in Toronto, North Texas is young and inexperienced going up against some seasoned professionals.

North Texas still remains in first place with 23 points from 10 games. Tormenta FC sits second with 22 points from 11 games while Toronto FC II is in third on 18 points from 11.

North Texas completes this four-match road trip with a match in Madison on Saturday, June 22, and returns home to host FC Tucson on Tuesday, June 25. It will be three games in eight days for North Texas as they will be playing at home again on Saturday, June 29, against Lansing Ignite.

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