If you needed a moment to sum up North Texas SC’s inaugural season – and to be sure, there have been plenty to choose from – then you could simply re-watch the goal that earned the League One regular season title this past Saturday.
Positioned level with the six-yard area, two yards outside the left edge of the penalty area, Arturo Rodriguez stood over a free kick, seven of his teammates collected in and around the penalty area.
And they may as well have been invisible.
While everyone was expecting a cross, Rodriguez ripped his right foot through the ball, sending it perfectly into the top-right corner of the net. The audacity to attempt the shot, and the technique to execute, was the embodiment of everything that has made North Texas’ season special.
From opening the season with Ricardo Pepi scoring the first hat trick in League One’s history to leading the league with 50 goals, 277 chances created and 395 shots at the attacking end and sitting second in shutouts with 12 after this weekend’s action, Head Coach Eric Quill’s side has been the complete package from the opening weekend of the season.
What might be most impressive? They’ve done it with the youngest squad in the league. According to Transfermarkt.us, North Texas has an average age of 19.8 years old in its squad, with 20 players that have seen action having been born after Jan. 1, 2000.
And while the prodigious talent of Pepi has more than lived up to preseason expectations with nine goals in his first professional campaign and the elevation to FC Dallas’ MLS roster, there have been few players as consistently impressive as his teammate Ronaldo Damus. With 16 goals to lead the league, the Haiti international has grabbed the spotlight throughout the season.
So has Rodriguez, whose seven goals, a league-high nine assists and 66 chances created have made the 20-year-old arguably the leading playmaker in the league. Younger brother David’s chops in the attacking third have also been regularly on display, and so have the defensive abilities of FC Dallas Academy graduates Brecc Evans and Callum Montgomery, whose tandem has helped keep things tight at the defensive end.
Credit, too, should go to Quill, who has guided his young side through the campaign maintaining the standards that will not only lead to immediate success on the field, but future success at higher levels.
With two games to go in the regular season, all that remains for North Texas to do is hone its edge for the League One Playoffs, now four weeks away. With Lansing Ignite FC also confirmed as a postseason contender, a potential showdown between the two hottest teams in the league down the final stretch seems likely.
Having earned victory in 10 of 14 games at Toyota Stadium this season, though, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which North Texas isn’t the favorite to lift the trophy in the League One Final, which would provide a fitting end to an extraordinary first season for the club.