Soccer expansion has made its way to Fort Worth proper, and on Friday, Fort Worth Vaqueros FC will open its inaugural season in the National Premier Soccer League.
It’s been a relatively short road from creation to kickoff for the Vaqueros, who are owned by former FC Dallas president Michael Hitchcock. The team started from scratch in early February, holding the first of its open tryout sessions on Feb. 8.
“There’s no question it wasn’t the ideal amount of time leading up to a season to put a team together, but we feel we’ve done a pretty decent job and we’re going to find out,” coach Mark Snell said.
Through six open tryouts that brought over 240 hopefuls, the coaching staff selected a handful of players. The roster was filled out with players that Snell and other members of the Vaqueros’ front office had some previous knowledge of — all players local to the Metroplex. But the roster given to officials on Opening Day could look different as the season moves along.
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“The roster is kind of fluid,” Snell commented. NPSL rules allow teams effectively to sign as many players as they wish, but game day rosters are limited to 26. The NPSL operates as a fourth-division league in the U.S. Soccer Federation and players retain their amateur status.
“We’ve got a very good core,” Snell added. “I don’t see it changing too much. We’ve got a couple of players that are like development players that train with the team, but by and large, we’re pretty much set right now, barring any injuries.”
Injuries, though, have already impacted the club ahead of its first match. Just two weeks before the season, goalkeeper Zach Downes broke his forearm in an accident at home sidelining the former Under-20 national team player indefinitely.
“Fortunately, we have a lot of tentacles into the soccer community,” Snell said.
Goalkeeping coach Paul Hason made some calls. “We think we’ve solved that problem, but it’s a blow because Zach is such a great kid,” Snell said.
Offensively, the Vaqueros expect to attack and pressure opposing clubs.
“We’re going to play an attack-minded 4-3-3,” Snell explained. “We are a very technical team. It’s going to be possession-based. We’ve got a lot creative players and we’ve also got a lot of fast players.”
Patrolling the midfield will usually be Tyler Humphrey and Josh Hernandez. Snell will expect Austin Stewart and Hilton Ngwa to be scoring threats.
“I don’t want to sound too optimistic, but we’ve got a group here that has a high ceiling as far as potential,” Snell said.
Another thing fans will probably notice is how young the squad looks. The Vaqueros’ average age is just under 22, with the oldest player, Jaime Benitez, at 27.
“I’m going to revert back to the saying that many coaches have: ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough,’ ” Snell said. “One of our most promising players is [18-year-old] Nestor Martinez, a Diamond Hill product.”
Having assembled the team in such a short time frame, it could be expected that chemistry would stand out as an early weakness, but players actually feel the opposite.
“One thing about this team that I noticed was that we’re all very well connected already,” Stewart said. “The first couple weeks of practice it was almost like a family atmosphere right off the bat.”
“Practicing as a team has definitely brought us together,” midfielder Zachary Adler said. “It took us a few practices to get used to it. We played a few scrimmages and that definitely got our chemistry up to where we’re flowing as a team now and working good.”
Considering six of the eight teams in the Vaqueros’ conference are expansion clubs, there isn’t a lot of insight into the competition, which simply means more introspection.
“The main thing is we really just have to focus on ourselves and building our team up and improving our chemistry,” Adler said. “We don’t really need to worry about the other teams so much as ourselves.”
With an opening test against last season’s South Central Conference champions, the Tulsa Athletics, the Vaqueros could get an early indication of how they measure up. Snell and his staff have high expectations.
“We’ve played a number of preseason games and everybody knows the potential here,” he said. “We’ve got several players who have played at the U.S. youth national team level. Those are quality players and we, in general, know the standard. We’re within the realm of thinking we should be in that final four of our conference.”
Whatever the early results, Snell promises an exciting brand of soccer from his charges.
“My philosophy is that we want to play a highly technical and tactical game. I personally love to attack and you can’t do it with robots that are very rigid in their positions.
“We want the players to express themselves and also to fight and battle hard. And I think that the fans will see there’s a lot of creativity out there. It’s going to be a very fun and entertaining team to watch.”
|May 9||vs. Tulsa Athletics||7:30 p.m.*|
|May 11||vs. Liverpool Warriors (North Dallas)||5:30 p.m.*|
|May 23||at Oklahoma City FC||7:30 p.m.*|
|May 24||at Joplin Demize (Joplin, Mo.)||7:30 p.m.*|
|May 29||vs. Dallas City FC||7:30 p.m.|
|June 7||at Dallas City FC (Mountain View College)||7 p.m.|
|June 15||at Dallas City FC (Mountain View College)||8 p.m.|
|June 20||vs. BCS Clash||7:30 p.m.|
|June 22||vs. San Antonio Corinthians||7:30 p.m.|
|June 29||vs. Dallas City||7:30 p.m.|
|July 4||at San Antonio Corinthians||7:30 p.m.|
|July 6||at BCS Clash (Bryan/College Station)||7:30 p.m.|
* NPSL South Central Conference match
Home games at LaGrave Field
|MF||Cody Dams||FC Dallas Academy|
|MF||Zachary Adler,||Stevens Institute Of Technology|
|D||Fernando Arrellano||Tyler Junior College|
|D||Jaime Benitez||Howard Payne University|
|MF||Corwin Carbonell||Richland College|
|MF||Joseph Cervantes||Central Arkansas|
|F||Jeorge Deleon||Richland College|
|GK||Zachary Downes||FC Dallas Academy|
|MF||Dalibor Golubovic||FC Dallas Academy|
|MF||Joshua Hernandez||FC Dallas Academy|
|MF||Tyler Humphrey||Richland College|
|F||Iban Kovacevic||Texas Wesleyan|
|D||Emmet Kumeh||John Brown University|
|MF||Nestor Martinez||Dallas Texans Academy|
|MF||Ricardo Mejia||FC Dallas Academy|
|F||Hilton Ngwa||University Of Buea|
|GK||Arturo Sanchez||Texas Wesleyan|
|D||Diego Sanchez||Texas Premiere|
|MF||Austin Stewart||Virginia Tech|
|MF||Jonathan Tiggs||Point Loma University|
|MF||Edgar Torres||FC Dallas|
Mark Snell, head coach
Casey McLean, assistant coach
Paul Hason, goalkeeper coach