The game the entire league has been waiting for is here at last. The unstoppable force of North Texas’ attack finally meets the immovable object in Tormenta FC’s defense. The first and third (but with five games in hand over current second place Lansing) place teams in USL League One have both played every team except each other, and tonight is the first chance to see if the team best positioned to dethrone North Texas can prevail in a head to head clash.
North Texas SC defender Cesar Murillo has previously stated that his squad are treating this game as if it were a final. Currently 8 points clear at the top, but with an extra game played, the FC Dallas second team will look to solidify their lead with a win. Tormenta can get some security with three points as well, potentially moving five points back with that game in hand. Lately, though, the immovable Tormenta defense has started to show some cracks, conceding 5 goals in their last two games. The South Georgia attack has underperformed in those games as well, scoring only one goal from a late penalty. A win or draw here can halt their first losing streak all year after back to back losses to Madison and Toronto II.
The team traveled to Toronto last weekend looking to get back on track following their first home loss of the season, 2-1 to Forward Madison. The defense was solid for much of the opening half hour, but things began to unravel in the 28th minute when Toronto II took advantage of an out of sorts Tormenta back line in transition and struck the first goal. They would get another less than 10 minutes later, as their high pressing continued to generate turnovers and chances for the MLS 2 side. A third would be added in the second half off a set piece and seal the win for Toronto II.
While the defense was abnormally underwhelming, the offense continued to struggle, failing to score on any of their 16 shots. They won the possession battle, sure, but that didn’t contribute much (possession is a trash stat, shoutout League 1 Fun) as all four shots on target came from over 18 yards away from goal. None of the close up chances were put on frame, and Tormenta FC left their first international trip empty handed, but still safely within playoff qualification.
Speaking of playoffs, another squad with the Tormenta name is currently in the USL League Two postseason following a victory over SC United in the final week of the regular season to give the Tormenta franchise back to back Deep South Division titles. Tormenta FC 2 returned to Columbia, South Carolina on Friday for the Southern Conference playoffs, where things seemed a bit déjà vu. Last year, after an undefeated regular season, PDL Tormenta FC had its first postseason appearance against The Villages. (I know y’all are hearing the song in your head now, too. Sorry.) The visitors from Florida would spoil the evening in Statesboro, winning 1-0 alongside some controversial calls. This time, things were different. The two teams met again in the conference semifinals; this time, Twomenta found the net three times in the second half, and a late goal conceded would do little to stop them from claiming a spot in Sunday’s final. They’ll play the SC United-Brazos Valley winner for a conference championship alongside a spot in the USL League Two national playoffs.
Before then, though, we get to see what the professional Tormenta side is worth when up against the table toppers. North Texas SC, unbeaten at their Toyota Stadium home, have only failed to claim all three points once in Frisco, with a draw against Greenville. They come into the match unbeaten in four, their only two losses this season coming from visits to Toronto II and Madison, also the teams that recently bested the Statesboro squad. The attacking machine that North Texas has assembled is clearly the best of the league, claiming both the first and second top goalscorers in Ronaldo Damus (9) and Ricardo Pepi (7), putting in 30 total compared to South Georgia’s modest 17. Behind them is a defense that, despite being overshadowed by the flashy attack, comes in tied for second in clean sheets.
Besides Pepi, who is an easily identifiable threat after being signed to and appearing for the FC Dallas first team as a Homegrown, North Texas creates through midfielder Arturo Rodriguez, who jointly owns the Most Assists title in League One. Also made available for tonight is FC Dallas player Cristian Colman… yes, the Young Designated Player and Paraguayan international could see minutes as he returns to match fitness after recovering from a torn ACL last year. Other FC Dallas players available include Edwin Cerillo, who has made 11 MLS appearances this year, recording one assist. These dangerous players combined with more talent from the FC Dallas wonderkid factory have helped the team to a league leading position in just its first year of play. The unpredictable nature of the reserve teams makes them tough to prepare for, so Tormenta needs to return back to their defense strengths quickly. If not, well, they’ll end up with the same fate as 7 of the last 8 teams to visit Frisco.
Prediction: North Texas 2-0 Tormenta FC
North Texas SC vs. South Georgia Tormenta FC
USL League One Regular Season
Toyota Stadium, Frisco, Texas
Saturday, July 20, 7:00 P.M. EST
Watch on ESPN+ in U.S.; USL League One YouTube internationally