With the whole world put on hold due to COVID-19, “the most important, unimportant thing” has come to a halt for many sports fans as FC Dallas and North Texas Soccer Club have had to halt their season’s as a result of the pandemic.
While many are looking for distractions during this newfound downtime, the United Soccer League (USL) has provided fans a distraction in the form of the popular and quickly growing realm of e-sports.
USL Championship and USL League One teams combined for a “USL eCup” for fans to enjoy while leagues, fans, and clubs wait out the pandemic. North Texas SC was invited and participated in the inaugural USL eCup that featured players going head-head with other clubs in Rocket League.
What is Rocket League you may ask? Rocket League is a soccer-styled video-game that employs rocket-power cars rather than using players as seen in other games such as FIFA and Football Manager. Winning a game is simple: score more goals than your opponent.
The format of the tournament is one many are familiar with. Essentially, the format is the same as the FIFA World Cup. 32 teams are divided equally into 8 groups: 24 Championship teams and 8 League One teams. Each club will play one game against each club in their group. The top two teams from each group progress on into the knockout-round.
In efforts to help communities during the pandemic, each team partnered with local charities to help raise money. North Texas partnered with the FC Dallas Foundation.
The actual matches are conducted in a best-of-3 series where 3-points are awarded for a win and 0-points for a loss in the series (Ex: NTX wins two games against their opponent so NTX earns 3-points from the matchup). Each game in the matchup is a 1v1 player game that lasts for 5-minutes (no stoppage time), again with the goal of out-scoring your opponent.
North Texas SC was placed in Group 5 with Richmond Kickers (League One), New York Red Bulls II (Championship), and St. Louis FC (Championship).
The representative for North Texas SC was FC Dallas and North Texas SC Multimedia Producer Jacob Walraven who, along with Foster Naylor and many others, has produced much of video content for both clubs.
“I feel honored to represent the reigning USL League One title-holders, Walraven said about being named as the North Texas SC representative. “This is a difficult time but I hope this tournament brings some fun and cheer into people’s lives. I look forward to the competition and I’ll strive to bring another trophy to North Texas.”
Walraven and North Texas SC took on the Richmond Kickers for the first club’s first match. It didn’t take long for Walraven to score and take an early lead after scoring 7-seconds into the first game.
Goals were exchanged back and forth between both sided until Richmond went on to win the first game 4-7. The second game mirrored the first game with Walraven scoring right from kickoff and taking the early lead after 2-seconds. Despite the strong start, North Texas SC would fall 3-6 in the second game and lose the matchup against the Virginia club.
The second matchup was a must-win not only for North Texas SC if they wanted to keep their knockout round hopes alive but also for their opponent, New York Red Bulls II, with both sides needing points to help their group standing. It was straight to work for Walraven as he scored the opening goal to set the tone for the first game.
It was a close and tense affair that kept viewers on the edge of their seat for the entire 5-minutes that saw North Texas SC come away with the 5-4 win in the first game. Things did not start as planned for North Texas SC in the second half and they fell to a 3-goal deficit for within the first half of the second game.
In true North Texas SC fighting spirit, Walraven not only recovered the 3-goal deficit but accomplished the comeback win with 3 seconds left in the game, giving North Texas SC their first points in the group.
With everything to play for in the final matchup of the group stage, North Texas SC faced a tough task against a dominant St. Louis FC side. It was a strong start from both players and after going nearly half the game scoreless, it appeared that both sides were headed for a stalemate. Walraven scored two impressive goals though it wasn’t enough for the onslaught of scoring by St. Louis FC in the end. North Texas SC lost the first game 13-2 and things didn’t go as desired in the second game as North Texas SC’s fate and elimination from the USL eCup was sealed after a 12-0 loss in the second game.
While it wasn’t the end that the club, viewers, or Walraven would’ve desired, the performance is one that many fans and Walraven himself can be proud of.
“I was extremely honored that North Texas SC chose me to represent the team in the eCup, Walraven said after his last match. “USL on all levels handled this new competition with extreme professionalism and a lot of direct communication to provide some really fun competitions. Unfortunately, I was unable to provide the result that we at FC Dallas and North Texas SC strive for, I’m still just grateful for the opportunity to compete and represent a Championship team.”
While North Texas SC may be eliminated from the USL eCup soccer will return (soon hopefully).
We are truly living in history and as we all eagerly await the return of sports and a sense of normalcy in our lives, USL has provided a means not only to serve as a distraction but also a promotion of the leagues and teams.
While the true return for FC Dallas and North Texas SC is unknown, some leagues and teams are finding ways to help quench the thirst for sports and North Texas SC did just that.