Long-anticipated by the club's fans, North Texas SC has opened its inaugural campaign undefeated in seven games to sit on top of the USL League One standings. | Photo courtesy North Texas SC
Ever since the arrival in the USL Championship of clubs including the LA Galaxy II, New York Red Bulls II and Swope Park Rangers, a lingering question from fans and media in the Dallas-Fort Worth region had been when FC Dallas and its powerful academy system would make the same move to add a second professional club to its structure.
Even as early as October 2015, FCD President Dan Hunt addressed that question during a chat on Reddit.
“We’ve been looking at our USL strategy,” he wrote then, “and there is a time that will come for us to have our own franchise.”
After sending players on loan to regional Championship clubs including OKC Energy FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC over the past three seasons, that time arrived last fall with the announcement that North Texas SC would be one of 10 teams in USL League One’s inaugural season.
And, boy, have they made their presence known.
Undefeated in seven games to start the League One season after Wednesday night’s 3-1 victory against Forward Madison FC, North Texas has scored the most goals in the league, has posted shutouts in three of seven outings, and sits atop the standings with a game in hand on its closest rival. The side stands in stark contrast to its two MLS owned-and-operated counterparts in League One, with Orlando City B and Toronto FC II taking up the bottom two positions in the early-season standings.
Now, it’s fair to point out that NTSC has had the benefit of a home-heavy early schedule. It’s taken care of business in all five of its games at Toyota Stadium, as any good side should. But that would discount the resilience the side showed in its most recent road trip last Saturday against Lansing Ignite FC.
Then, the side faced a two-goal deficit against an experienced squad. It was only the second time NTSC had trailed all season, and the first where it would have to make up multiple goals to take something from the game. That it was able to produce a 2-2 draw behind outstanding finishes by Ricardo Pepi and Arturo Rodriguez showed the maturity of the young squad Head Coach Eric Quill leads, and the players’ desire to not just develop, but succeed each time they step on the field.
“When you’re down 2-0 on the road, and there’s a good crowd behind them, you kind of wonder, are we going to find that goal, are we going to be killed off three 3-nil, which we almost were,” said Quill on Wednesday night. “Credit to [Ricardo] Pepi, great world-class goal. Arturo [Rodriguez] same thing, the mentality was to push and find a point. We even had a chance to get three at the end, so, really pleased with how much we don’t want to lose.”
And as much as the spotlight has fallen on Pepi and his five goals – his superlative free kick against Lansing came just two days after he’d been with the United States U-17 National Team at the Concacaf U-17 Championship in Florida – there has regularly been someone new step up each time NTSC has taken the field. On Wednesday night it was the turn of Arturo’s brother David Rodriguez and Imanol Almaguer, who each scored their first professional goals against the Flamingos.
North Texas SC took its fifth consecutive home victory on Wednesday night with a 3-1 win against Forward Madison FC. | Photo courtesy North Texas SC
Splitting time between North Texas and FCD’s U-19 USSDA Academy side, Almaguer is certainly happy for the opportunity the League One club now offers him.
“I think it’s a great responsibility, but I’ve got to thank coach for giving me that responsibility in the first place,” said Almaguer. “I think I’m doing a pretty good job and I just want to keep on doing what I do.”
There will be bigger tests as the season goes on. The first will be to see how the side reacts to its first setback, whenever that may arrive, while everyone should have NTSC’s first meeting with fellow front-runner South Georgia Tormenta FC on July 20 at Toyota Stadium circled, and the club’s trip to Statesboro, Ga. on September 14.
But given the anticipation for this moment that has built since fans first started asking for a club like North Texas SC to be established, the quality the team has produced so far has made Hunt and FC Dallas as a whole show the buildup to launch was time well spent.