After an inaugural season that fell short of expectations on the field, the Fort Worth Vaqueros FC are back for 2015 with noticeable changes on and off the pitch.
The season opens at 7:15 p.m. Friday against rival Dallas City FC at Dallas Bishop Lynch High School.
Almost half the roster has turned over, which is not all that surprising to coach Mark Snell, who was given little time to piece together a squad last season.
The club finished 2-7-1 in its first season in the South Central Conference of the National Premier Soccer League, but Snell noted there were some positives to build on. The NPSL operates as a fourth-division league in the U.S. Soccer Federation and players retain their amateur status.
“We felt that in 90 percent of the games we had a chance to win,” Snell said. “So we felt good about it, but the results and record didn’t show that. We didn’t get the results, but I thought we played fairly well.”
Coaches identified the primary problem as a lack of true defenders on the back line, and set out to rectify that in the off-season.
“Using an analogy of the football draft, we were taking the best possible player [last season], but not positionally,” Snell explained. “So we ended up with a lot of good players but few pure defenders.”
The Vaqueros will feature a new-look back four this season that Snell feels will make a huge difference.
Perhaps most noticeable will be 6-foot-6 Papa Faly, an intimidating back originally from Senegal who played last season with Dallas City. Joining him are SMU player Jacob Speed and Dade Horton, who is set to graduate this year from Cedar Hill High School.
“We’re very defensively organized now,” captain Tyler Humphrey said. “Our back line is going to do the job this year, I know it is.”
There’s plenty of returning experience as well. Perhaps most importantly for Snell, some of those players will have an opportunity to fill more natural roles this season.
Humphrey, for example, spent much of last year as a defensive, central midfielder. This season he’ll be allowed to push into a more attacking role.
“That’s giving me an extra boost coming to practice knowing that I’ll get some shots on goal or help put people in on goal,” Humphrey said.
Nestor Martinez, a local product from Fort Worth Diamond Hill-Jarvis, joined the team late last season and is expected to have a big impact this year now that he’s had adequate time to work with the club.
Snell also noted that North Crowley’s Diego Sanchez has been the brightest spot of the preseason. Sanchez never found a comfortable position last year, but seems to have found a home now as a holding midfielder.
“For me, that’s the most important tactical position on the field and he’s doing a marvelous job. He’s still learning, but he’s got a good knack for it,” Snell added.
Another significant change for the Vaqueros this season will be the team’s home stadium. After playing in the somewhat awkward confines of LaGrave Field last season, the team will now defend Texas Wesleyan’s Martin Field. It’s a move Snell says shouldn’t be understated, because the bigger playing field will favor the team’s possession style of play, not to mention bring the fans closer to the game.
“It’s going to be an intimidating atmosphere because the fans will be right on top of the field,” Snell said.
“Having the fans close to the field is great; I love that,” Humphrey added. “That’s going to give us a boost anytime the fans are right there.”
@ Dallas City FC
vs. Houston Regals
@ Joplin Demize
vs. San Antonio Corinthians
vs. FC Wichita
vs. Joplin Demize
@ Houston Regals
@ San Antonio Corinthians
@ Tulsa Athletics
@ Liverpool Warriors
vs. Tulsa Athletics
vs. Liverpool Warriors
vs. Dallas City FC
@ FC Wichita