North Carolina FC snagged their first win of the season at home but found disappointment in Detroit.

Photo by Gregory Ng of SoccerPhotographer.com

Hard Work and Patience Pays Off

NCFC had been within reach of that first win of the 2024 season from the beginning, yet it managed to elude them until Hartford Athletic came to visit on March 29th.

It sure wasn’t for a lack of trying. The effort had been there from the beginning, but an occasional slow start and some just plain rough luck kept getting between NCFC and their first three-point result.

So, it was a relief to see the Dead Whales reap the reward for their hard work with a 2-1 victory against Hartford.

Putting the Run in ‘Run of Play’

You’d be forgiven if you thought the first half hour of the game more closely resembled a track meet. There was a lot of back-and-forth action between North Carolina and Hartford, with the home team enjoying the run of play in the early going. Oalex Anderson, Jr. fully embraced his role as a chaos agent (more on why later), playing a part in both goals.

NCFC got on the board first in the 26th minute after Anderson moved the ball through midfield and smoked the Athletic defense. Beverly Makangila and Anderson Asiedu tried to close him down, but Anderson forced Asiedu into a foul in the penalty area.

That set up a penalty kick attempt for Louis Pérez. Cool as you like, Pérez blasted the attempt past goalkeeper Paul Walters to make it 1-0.

“Well, with the ball being tuned over, my eyes was lit up,” Anderson said after the game. “I’m like, this is a foot race. And no one’s beating me in a foot race, so, like, all I had to do is get ahead of the defender [and] put them in a bad spot.”

For Pérez, the spot-kick may not have been as pressure-filled as the one he took in last year’s final, but he still wanted to be sure to get his club on the board. “…in training we take some PKs, so it’s just training in repetition, and I was really eager to score and put the team in the right path.”

Anderson and Pérez, along with newcomer Rodrigo da Costa, have formed a formidable attacking trio, made even more dangerous with Rafa Mentzingen and Ezra Armstrong creating chances along the flanks.

So, it should be no surprise that da Costa and Anderson would team up for a beauty of a goal 10 minutes before halftime.

Da Costa nearly opened his account for NCFC moments after the Pérez PK after he deftly controlled the ball and pushed into some open space. He rocketed a shot from about 25 yards out that nearly caught the upper 90.

In the 35th minute, after a smart build-out from Armstrong and Collin Martin, da Costa got the ball and tapped it through the defense with just enough weight on it for Anderson to get behind the defense and run onto. Once he was 1v1 with Walters, Anderson sent the ball to the far post, just out of Walters’ reach to double the Dead Whales’ lead.

Hartford pulled a goal back in the 72nd minute after Mentzingen committed a foul just outside their defensive 18-yard box. Jay Chapman sent a fantastic curling free kick to the far post that beat everyone to end Jake McGuire’s bid for a clean sheet.

The visitors weren’t going to go away quietly, though. McGuire and the NCFC defense had to fend off an onslaught of attempts from Hartford through seven minutes of stoppage time. When the final whistle finally sounded, North Carolina was happy to have bagged their first win of the season.

…And He Took That Personally

Following the game, Oalex Anderson confessed that he was playing with a chip on his shoulder. “My brother, he played for Hartford. He wasn’t rostered, so he’s been treated a bit unfairly. So, I came into this game with a different mindset, with a little chip on my shoulder, just for him. And, you know, I’m glad that I was able to help the team pull off three points.”

NC v HFD: The Lineup

Goalkeeper: Jake McGuire

Defense: Lamar Batista, Paco Craig ©, Justin Malou

Midfield: Ezra Armstrong, Collin Martin (Jacori Hayes 86’), Mikey Maldonado, Rafa Mentzingen (Shaft Brewer, Jr. 79’), Louis Pérez (Jaden Servania 79’), Rodrigo da Costa (Julian Placias 86’),

Forward: Oalex Anderson, Jr. (Evan Conway 72’)

Strong Second Half Effort Falls Short in Detroit

Coming off the Hartford win, North Carolina FC headed to the Motor City to take on first-place Detroit City FC in a Saturday afternoon game.

Detroit came out of the gate showing why they’re sharing the top of the table with Louisville City FC. They neutralized NCFC’s press and turned it back on them through the early stages of the first half.

The pressure led to the only goal of the game in the ninth minute. Detroit won the ball in their defensive third and played a long ball up the flank to Rhys Williams. He got around his defender into acres of open space between him and NCFC goalkeeper Antonio Carrera. Williams released a shot just as Nelson Flores Blanco was closing in, but the ball deflected off of the North Carolina defender snuck in between Carrera and the near post.

After making some adjustments, North Carolina found more success with their high press, which freed up Anderson, da Costa, and Pérez for some good scoring chances. But getting the finish right once again proved elusive for NCFC.

A Costly Win for Detroit

The matchup between Detroit and North Carolina was physical from the start and got even more so as the game went on. Despite the sometimes chippy play—six yellow cards were handed out in the second half—the teams had mostly managed to avoid injury.

Detroit suffered two significant injuries requiring substitutions in the second half. Striker Elvis Amoh was trying to make a play deep in the NCFC defensive end when he went down with a non-contact injury and had to be helped off the field just before the hour mark.

Minutes later, Williams got caught up in a scramble off a Detroit corner kick and was in immense pain as he writhed on the pitch. After several minutes of treatment from the training staff, he was taken from the field on a stretcher. The Detroit News reported that Williams suffered a fractured cheek while Amoh may have injured a groin muscle.

North Carolina put Detroit FC under considerable pressure through 12 minutes of stoppage time but couldn’t find the equalizer, and departed Detroit with their second loss of the season.

NC @ DET: The Lineup

Goalkeeper: Antonio Carrera

Defense: Lamar Batista, Paco Craig ©, Justin Malou,

Midfield: Nelson Flores Blanco (Ezra Armstrong 73’), Collin Martin (Julian Placias 89’), Jacori Hayes (Mikey Maldonado 73’), Rafa Mentzingen (Shaft Brewer Jr. 90+4’), Rodrigo da Costa (Garrett McLaughlin 82’), Louis Pérez (Jaden Servania 82’)

Forward/Striker: Oalex Anderon, Jr.

I want to say that [Anderson’s goal against Hartford] highlights that we have a strong team we are getting together. It’s not just about Oalex scoring goals or me having the PK’s. It’s about Rodrigo’s ball, it’s about Collin’s ball, it’s about the press…and all the guys doing the work. – Louis Pérez on coming together as a team

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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