Lone Star Conference
Dallas City FC
Founded in Dallas in 2013 in response to the MLS franchise playing in Frisco (actually 30 miles outside of Dallas), Dallas City FC has always sought to be the team of Dallas. With so many other clubs in the area, that’s a great first step for the club. Not playing in 2018 won’t help achieve that goal, but the club will be coming back to play in 2019. There’s never a bad time for a fresh start! Their last season, DCFC finished 4th in the Heartland Conference, qualifying for the conference playoffs. That was a short-lived playoff run, however, as they were knocked out, losing their first match to FC Wichita 3-2. What this upcoming season brings is hard to tell. The club, like many at this level, also has a team that plays in the UPSL, competing in the Central Conference - North.
Most expansion sides in this level have jumped from one league to the next, but Denton is a club starting from scratch. Club owners Michael Hitchcock (who also owns the Fort Worth NPSL club) and Damon Gochneaur chose the name Diablos because of “the alliteration, the cultural ties to Denton’s Day of the Dead festival, and the aesthetic appeal.” Going so far as to focus group the brand identity, the choice was a deliberate one. The imposing figure of the cross-armed demon implies strength, but, as with all new clubs, the results on the field are still only in theory. Denton is now the fourth club in the East Texas area, joining Dallas City, Fort Worth Vaqueros, and Tyler FC. That’s four clubs within a 2 hour drive, which greatly reduces travel costs. With so many NPSL sides in the area, It’s clear that this region of Texas is a hot bed for up and coming soccer talent.
Head Coach Chad Rakestraw and the rest of the Denton Diablos front office have been holding tryouts over the last couple of months, so the roster is being filled for this upcoming season. According to co-owner Damon Gochneaur, the club has already signed a host of talented players, including collegiate All-Americans, international players, and players with MLS academy experience. With the right coaching from Rakestraw, Denton may be the darkhorse pick to make a run into the conference playoffs.
Fort Worth Vaqueros
Fort Worth entered the NPSL in 2014 and has been a bulwark in the Lone Star Region ever since. Stability has been a goal of the NPSL since its founding and Fort Worth is an example of a club who has worked to achieve that goal. Featuring on of the best-named supporters groups in the country, Panther City Hellfire, Vaqueros have worked hard to connect to their city. Even the name of the club was chosen by fans. Being successful in marketing has been match by limited success on the field. Last season Vaqueros FC finished the 2018 6-2-2, qualifying for the conference playoffs. Once there, Fort Worth beat 5th seed FC Brownsville 5-0 in the first round. The second round brought a loss to eventual conference champion, Laredo Heat SC, 3-1. MF Jamie Lovegrove earned Regional XI honors, as well as scoring the NPSL Goal of the Year (a beautiful, game-winning free kick against FC Brownsville). With the return of Dallas City FC and the addition of Denton Diablos, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is suddenly crowded with NPSL sides. It will be exciting to see geographic rivalries play themselves out on the field. As the club solidifies its roster, signs point to another successful season for Vaqueros FC.
Katy 1895 FC
As an expansion club last season, Katy 1895 FC had a rough 2018, finishing the season 3-7-0 and a dismal -13 goal differential. Maybe this should have been expected of a brand new side, but this team really struggled to produce offense, getting blanked 3 times in their first season. The scoring that was accomplished was led by Abdullah Mirza and Sergio Loredo, who both had four goals for Katy. With a rough first year behind them, Katy 1895 FC is holding a host of tryouts to tap into the Houston-area talent base. Without a single player earning regional recognition, there is a great need to bolster the roster for the upcoming campaign. Hopefully the addition of more talent will allow the club to be more competitive in 2019.
Laredo Heat SC
After having one of the best seasons in the league, going 12-0-0 in the regular season before losing in the Regional Semi-Final in extra time, Laredo Heat SC made an unlikely change to the staff. Last year’s coach Dana Taylor moved away from the sidelines and handed the reins over to Aiden Davison. Davison previously coached in the I-League with Pune City FC. The club’s success last season was completely unexpected by the league, as Laredo was entering the NPSL from a two year hiatus (after a decade of play in the PDL). Forward Guillermo Diaz led the charge for Laredo in 2018, making the NPSL National IX. They look to continue their run of good form with a club with the high turnover (70%) you might expect in a league developing young talent who move on to greener fields (8 NPSL players were taken in the MLS Superdraft). Regardless of this talent exit, forward Gabriel Rodriguez (Colombia) and goalkeeper Carlos Herrera (Mexico) will be back to continue to the quality from the previous season. Herrera was chosen as the goalkeeper for the Regional XI and has shown tremendous talent in his college matches (playing for Texas A&M International University).
Followed by their supporters group, 956 Ultras, the club has its sights on another great run in 2019, with the goal of making it to the NPSL Championship. The defeat in last year’s Regional Semi-Final to Little Rock still sticks with the club’s staff, as they felt they were too confident going into that match. With the wealth of talent in an isolated border community in Laredo, TX, Heat should be able to reload easily and field another superior squad. After the success of last season, Heat SC should be seen as a top contender in this region.
Midland-Odessa Sockers FC
If you play football in Midland-Odessa, most people will think you mean the American version of the sport. However, Sockers FC has carved their own niche in the desert. In its 10th year of existence, the club finished second in the regular season standings - with only two losses (Fort Worth and Laredo). The club was a powerhouse offensively, scoring 30 goals against only 8 given up. Midland-Odessa also qualified for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and won their opening match before getting knocked out by USL side San Antonio FC. Sockers FC was led by NPSL Regional XI starters MF Andres Felipe Rodriguez Becerra and FW Nathan Regis. The success of 2018 was a continuation of the great 2017 campaign, which saw Midland-Odessa make it to the National Championship.
2019 will be a challenging one for Midland-Odessa for several reasons, the biggest being roster turnover. Currently the Sockers are only expecting 2-4 returning players from last season’s squad. If you know anything about the Midland-Odessa area, this fact is not surprising. The towns are oil towns and people, particularly young men, are quick to come and go as the oil prices go up and down. Pair that massive turnover with a coaching change and the challenge to make the playoffs becomes even greater. Johnny Clifford, former player and assistant coach for the club will take over the team. Clifford is also the head coach of St. Mary’s (San Antonio, TX). Clearly he knows the club and the area, it will be curious to see what he can put together with such a fresh set of names.
Regardless of the difficulties of playing in a small market, dominated by another sport, Sockers FC has proven that they will be competitive. The club is already revving up for what they see as their big conference matchups, which Jeff VonHolle, General Manager, Soccer Operations lists as Laredo Heat and Ft. Worth Vaqueros - “Those two teams, in the past couple of years, have been the teams that have given up the most trouble, and are generally at the top of the table, along with us, in our conference. That said, something tells me that a new team this year, the Denton Diablos, may quickly become a big game for us as well.”
So there’s rough seasons and then there’s Tyler FC’s 2018 season. The club finished dead last in their conference without a win while giving up 54 goals. Typical of last season, in two back-to-back matches, the club yielded 8 and 9 goals respectively. It was not a fun season. And don’t forget the club had a disastrous 2017 season that ended in last place with only 2 points for Tyler FC. And to make it worse, the tumultuous two seasons saw two head coaches come and go. VP of Tyler FC, Jason Martinez, shared his thoughts on those first two seasons - “After the 2018 NPSL season we were really thinking about dropping out of the league, it was a very expensive way to embarrass ourselves locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. It is no secret we were a team that had not figured it out yet.” In an effort to right the ship, the club put together a new Board of Directors to get more direction as an organization. They hired a new head coach, Karl Pierre, who had played for the club the first two seasons. And while the roster needs to be upgraded, two key players are returning from last season, midfielders Sergio Gonzalez and Jimmy Sandoval.
When your club has finished last two years in a row and year end point totals are single digits, the goals have to be realistic and incremental. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will Tyler FC suddenly be National Champions. According to Martinez, Tyler FC’s goal is to finish fourth or better in their conference in 2019. That goal is marginal and not impossible, but just getting some positive momentum will go a long way for this East Texas club.
Photos courtesy of club social media and Protagonist Soccer, unless otherwise mentioned. Custom art designed by Laura Mills. Previews written by Dan Vaughn with input from David Baker and Joshua Duder.