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A planned return to The Soccer Tournament, a stretch of three games in seven days—including a U.S. Open Cup match—and a trip to Indianapolis kept North Carolina FC busy in the last half of April.

Well, it’s been a minute. There is plenty to catch up on, so let’s dive in.

Bradford Hits the Century Mark

The match against Birmingham Legion FC on April 14 was the 100th game with North Carolina FC Head Coach and Sporting Director John Bradford at the helm. But he wasn’t in a celebratory mood following his club’s 1-1 draw.

The Dead Whales got on the board in the second minute of the match when Rafa Mentzingen, following up on a scoring attempt by Adrian Pelayo, drew a penalty on Legion goalkeeper Matt VanOekel. Rodrigo Da Costa made good on the penalty kick to give North Carolina a dream start.

The visitors pulled level in the 23rd minute when perennial pest Enzo Martinez set up the Birmingham attack at midfield, sending a short ball back to Prosper Kasim, who lobbed the ball over the defense to a sprinting Stéfano Pinho. He tracked the ball down near the endline and rolled it back across the ball to Martinez, who put it on the top shelf out of Jake McGuire’s reach.

That would be all the scoring in the late afternoon game, as neither side was able to generate a lot of intensity on an unseasonably warm day. It left Bradford and his team with a somewhat bitter taste, as they thought they should have got more out of the matchup.

NCFC v Birmingham: The Lineup

Goalkeeper: Jake McGuire

Defense: Justin Malou, Paco Craig ©, Adrian Pelayo (Bryce Washington 89’)

Midfield: Rafa Mentzingen (Shaft Brewer Jr. 63’), Mikey Maldonado, Collin Martin, Ezra Armstrong

Forward: Rodrigo da Costa (Garrett McLaughlin 71’), Louis Pérez (Jaden Servania 62’)
Julian Placias (Oalex Anderson 63’)

NCFC Returned to U.S. Open Cup Action

Antonio Carrera made his first start at WakeMed Soccer Park and earned a clean sheet as North Carolina FC advanced to the Round of 32 with a win over Carolina Core FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on April 17.

Like their pre-season scrimmage, this game was a spirited, physical matchup, with referee Josh Parke handing out nine yellow cards (four for NCFC) on the night.

Earning his second start of the week, Julian Placias netted the only goal of the evening after Garrett McLaughlin outmuscled the Core defense to get a shot at goal. He fought for the rebound and pushed the ball across to Placias for the game-winner.

NCFC v Carolina Core FC: The Lineup

Goalkeeper: Antonio Carrera

Defense: Bryce Washington, Adrian Pelayo, Daniel Navarro (Justin Malou 85’)

Midfield: Nelson Flores Blanco, Collin Martin © (Mikey Maldonado 69’), Jacori Hayes, Shaft Brewer Jr. (Kyrome Lumsden 69’)

Forward: Jaden Servania (Louis Pérez 85’), Julian Placias, Garrett McLaughlin (Rodrigo da Costa 85’)


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Closing Out the Week with Three Points

NCFC finished off their busiest week of the season, hosting New Mexico United on Saturday, April 20. With three games in eight days, no one would blame the boys for heavy legs, but this turned out to be their best performance of the week.

At 18 years old, Julian Placias is looking to make a name for himself as a reliable target in front of the goal. He again opened the scoring against New Mexico with a tally in the 16th minute. Collin Martin set up the score when he played a ball through midfield, which caused the New Mexico defense to flub their lines. Placias showed veteran patience, getting on the ball and beating former NCFC goalkeeper Alex Tambakis for the early lead.

The visitors equalized moments later after Paco Craig was whistled for a foul in the box, and Greg Hurst converted from the spot.

The back-and-forth continued through the first half with two more goals before the thirty-minute mark. In the 28th minute, Rafa Mentzingen and Ezra Armstrong combined to put the hosts back on top, then a minute later, NCFC got caught out when Arturo Astorga lofted the ball behind the North Carolina defense to Hurst, who chipped the ball over Jake McGuire.

Both teams had some good looks at goal in the second half, but neither could connect the final play until Dominick Hernandez played a cross to a wide-open Sergio Rivas in the middle of the box. Rivas headed the ball past McGuire to give New Mexico the stoppage-time winner.

Despite the disappointing result, North Carolina showed plenty of fight and deserved to get points from the game. And getting two goals past one of the top goalkeepers in the USL Championship should give the offense plenty of positives to build from.

NCFC v New Mexico United: The Lineup

Goalkeeper: Jake McGuire

Defense: Bryce Washington, Paco Craig ©, Justin Malou

Midfield: Ezra Armstrong, Collin Martin, Mikey Maldonado, Rafa Mentzingen

Forward: Rodrigo da Costa (Shaft Brewer, Jr. 90+3’), Louis Pérez (Jaden Servania 85’), Julian Placias (Garrett Mclaughlin 76’)

A Spin-Out in Indy

There was more frustration from set pieces for the Dead Whales when they traveled to the Hoosier State to take on the Indy Eleven on April 27.

North Carolina created some good chances in the early going, including a nice second-chance blast from Rafa Mentzingen in the 16th minute that goalkeeper Hunter Sulte managed to snag.

It was another physical matchup against Indy that ended with nearly 30 fouls called (17 against North Carolina) and five yellow cards (four of them shown to NCFC). Conceding free kicks would prove costly for the visitors. Indy took the lead on the brink of halftime when Jack Blake sent a free kick into the box out of Jake McGuire’s reach. In the scramble to try to make the clearance, the ball deflected off Mikey Maldonado and into the net.

North Carolina leveled the score just after halftime off some impressive build-out play that started with a long punt from McGuire. Adrián Diz leaped over the back of Julian Placias to head the ball back toward midfield, but some good heads-up play from Maldonado kept the ball moving forward. Rafa took the ball along the right flank and opened up some space before spotting Louis Pérez making his run behind the Indy defense. Pérez squeezed a header just past the near post to make it 1-1 in the 51st minute.

Indy would get the game-winner in the 78th minute off of another set piece from virtually the same spot where they got their first goal. Once again, Blake sent a clean, curling kick toward the far post. Callum Chapman-Page caught it with the outside of his foot at the back post, chipping the ball back toward the middle of the six-yard box where Douglas Martinez headed it in to restore Indy’s lead.

NCFC pushed hard for the equalizer through the final 10 minutes plus stoppage, but a barrage of foul calls kept them from finding a flow.

NCFC at Indy Eleven: The Lineup

Goalkeeper: Jake McGuire

Defense: Justin Malou (Oalex Anderson 75’), Paco Craig ©, Bryce Washington

Midfield: Rafa Mentzingen (Jaden Servania 89’), Mikey Maldonado, Collin Martin (Raheem Somersall 89’), Ezra Armstrong (Shaft Brewer Jr. 75’)

Offense: Louis Pérez, Rodrigo da Costa, Julian Placias (Garrett McLaughlin 89’)

NCFC Will Field a Team Again in TST

North Carolina FC announced on April 11 that they will field a team again in the 2024 edition of The Soccer Tournament. The team will be coached by North Carolina State soccer alum and NCFC Academy coach Dewan Bader.

A roster has yet to be announced for the 7v7 tournament, but expect the team to be comprised of NCFC/Carolina RailHawks alumni and other Triangle-area soccer stars.

The million-dollar, winner-take-all tournament will take place June 5-10 at WakeMed Soccer Park.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We’re being tested right now. You know, it’s difficult to deal with but I have confidence in the group that we will deal with it, and we will continue to push forward.” – John Bradford on the team growing through difficult times

Author: Victoria

Victoria first fell in love with soccer watching Soccer Made in Germany on a tiny black-and-white TV in her room. A longtime Portland Timbers fan, the first article she wrote was a feature in her high school paper on beloved Timbers player Jimmy Kelly. Victoria now resides in North Carolina with her two cats who are utterly indifferent to The Beautiful Game.

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