WEEK TWO/THREE RECAP: First Road Trip, New Investors, and Oh, So Close to Three Points

After a disappointing road trip to Loudoun, North Carolina FC returns to WakeMed Soccer Park and nearly snatches three points against Tampa Bay.

Photo by Gregory Ng of SoccerPhotographer.com

North Carolina FC may be an unknown (or lesser known) quantity in the USL Championship, but any team that sees them on the schedule and thinks they might get some easy points is going to be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Although they didn’t get the result they wanted in Loudoun, they were very competitive on the afternoon. They returned home to give another old rival, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, all sorts of fits in a hard-fought draw.

So, let’s recap weeks two and three of the young USL Championship season.

Lots of Debuts in Leesburg

Week Two of the 2024 USL Championship season saw North Carolina FC head north to face another familiar rival in Loudoun United. Head Coach John Bradford shifted the lineup from their opening game against Charleston, making six changes to the starting eleven.

Goalkeeper Antonio Carrera, on loan from FC Dallas, got his first start in net for the Dead Whales, and 17-year-old Adrian Pelayo made his professional debut on the back line.

Other changes to the lineup included: Shaft Brewer, Jr. making his first start for North Carolina, with veterans Nelson Flores Blanco and Mikey Maldonado breaking into the starting eleven. After an impressive showing off the bench last week, Evan Conway got the call to start up front.

The moves were part finding the right chemistry and part managing minutes and easing players into the grind of the season. Unsurprisingly (to NCFC fans, anyway), there was good energy from the starters and the substitutes.

A Solid Outing Comes Up Short

North Carolina came out strong at Segra Field, creating some good scoring chances, including a good second chance effort from Rodrigo Da Costa in the 17th minute.

Eventually, though, Loudoun grew into the game and, after weathering NCFC’s pressure through the first 20 minutes of the match, Kwame Awuah sent a great cross in to Kalil ElMedkhar who headed the ball past Carrera to put the home team on the board in the 23rd minute.

NCFC responded well to the setback, getting right back to pressuring Loudoun, looking to force them into a mistake. It looked like they would have a golden opportunity in the 36th minute during a scramble in the Loudoun box when it appeared that a Loudoun player committed a handball. However, referee Elvis Osmanovic wasn’t having any of it and all North Carolina got out of the exchange was a yellow card to Da Costa.

The pressure finally paid off in the 38th minute after Brewer drew a foul on Loudoun United’s Wesley Leggett deep in the attacking third. Louis Pérez sent the free kick toward the far post. Goalkeeper Hugo Fauroux tried to make a play on the ball, but it deflected out to the feet of Collin Martin, who fired the ball across the goal to a waiting Maldonado to put it in the back of the net.

Despite outshooting Loudoun 12-7, the 38th-minute tally would be North Carolina’s only score on the day. Meanwhile, Awuah and ElMedkhar gave NCFC’s defense plenty of problems, generating loads of scoring chances, including several set-piece opportunities.

After a great build out from the defense, ElMedkhar played a lovely ball through to Loudoun captain Zach Ryan who slotted the ball past Carrera, who had come out of his net to challenge, putting Loudoun back on top in the 61st minute.

Bradford filtered in several substitutes throughout the second half, including Oalex Anderson, Jr., who put the Loudoun defense on its heels immediately, driving toward the endline and firing a shot off the post. He later forced Fauroux to make a couple of big plays as NCFC pushed for the equalizer.

Once again, Awuah proved to be a menace late in the game. After picking off the ball in midfield, he carried the ball down the flank and tried a cross that was rejected by the NCFC defense. But Loudoun retrieved the clearing attempt and set up a second phase opportunity. After pinging the ball around the top of the 18-yard box, Ryan slipped a pass through to Abdellatif Aboukoura, who buried the ball—and North Carolina’s chances to take home a point—in the 85th minute.

NC at LDN: The Lineup

Goalkeeper: Antonio Carrera

Defense: Shaft Brewer Jr. (Rafa Mentzingen 61’), Bryce Washington, Paco Craig, Adrian Pelayo (Julian Placias 83’), Nelson Flores Blanco (Ezra Armstrong 84’)

Midfield: Mikey Maldonado, Collin Martin (Raheem Somersall 69’), Rodrigo Da Costa

Forwards: Louis Perez, Evan Conway (Oalex Anderson 69’)

Photo by Gregory Ng of SoccerPhotographer.com

Rowdy Rival Revival

After reintroducing themselves to their northern rivals, the Dead Whales renewed their rivalry with their southern rival from Tampa Bay. The Saturday evening match brought back a couple of familiar faces in former NCFC defender Aarón Guillén and Raleigh native Forrest Lasso, both of whom had a solid showing on the Rowdy back line.

And they had plenty to do on the night with a North Carolina team that pushed up their sleeves and went to work from the opening whistle. They had the Rowdies on their heels through the first 20 minutes of the game, enjoying over 67% duel success before Tampa Bay shook off the road dust.

North Carolina continued to frustrate the Rowdies in the second half, snuffing out just about every attacking opportunity the visitors tried to roll out, while the NCFC offense delivered some full-moon chaos, starting with Collin Martin picking the ball off as Tampa tried to play out of the back and feeding Oalex Anderson, Jr., whose shot in the first minute just missed over the bar.

Later in the second half, Anderson caught the Rowdies flat-footed and drove down the flank. With Rodrigo Da Costa and Louis Pérez making supporting runs at the box, Anderson went for the long cross. The ball ended up with Da Costa at the bottom of the arc who took a touch to get himself turned toward the goal, but his shot sailed high.

The Rowdies got on the scoreboard in the 63rd minute off of a set piece. Lewis Hilton sent a corner kick into the box. The ball pinged out to Mikey Maldonado, who attempted to clear it only to have his clearing attempt zipped back at goal, then dip under the crossbar out of Jake McGuire’s reach.

Though the tally seemed to give the Rowdies life, North Carolina got right back to work, clogging up the midfield and looking to spring Pérez and Mentzingen in the attacking third.

The work paid off in the 75th minute when Ezra Armstrong carried the ball down left side looking for a play. He dropped it back to Pérez who drove back down the side while Mentzingen made the run to the far post, waving his arms. Pérez found Rafa all alone and, with Jordan Farr scrambling across the goal, buried the shot to give North Carolina a valuable point on the night.

North Carolina played well enough to deserve three points on the night, but that first W on the season feels like it’s within their grasp.

Photo by Gregory Ng of SoccerPhotographer.com

The Best Kind of Baby Announcement

Following his score, Rafa sprinted to the dasher boards and grabbed one of the extra balls, stuffing it under his jersey to celebrate the anticipated birth of his and his wife’s first child, due this spring.

“I was really excited about this one,” Rafa said after the game. “It was a great ball from Louis…the ball came right to me, and I scored, and I was really excited because I could dedicate to my son, who is coming in May as well. So, it was a special moment, for sure.”

NC v TBR: The Lineup

Goalkeeper: Jake McGuire

Defense: Lamar Batista, Paco Craig ©, Justin Malou

Midfield: Ezra Armstrong (Shaft Brewer 90+3’), Collin Martin, Mikey Maldonado, Rafael Mentzingen

Forwards: Louis Pérez (Jaden Servania 87’), Rodrigo Da Costa (Garrett McLaughlin 87’), Oalex Anderson, Jr. (Evan Conway 76’)

North Carolina FC Gets Three Outside Investors

On March 19, North Carolina FC announced the addition of three outside investors. Before the agreement and announcement, Steve Malik had been the sole owner of NCFC (the North Carolina Courage have brought in several backers since 2020).

The new investors are David Anderson, Damian Mills, and Paul “Chip” Schorr IV.

Anderson serves as a Vice President and Owner/Operator of 27 McDonalds franchises and has a long history of community involvement as he splits his time between the Triangle and Wilmington, NC.

Mills is the founder and CEO of Mills Automotive Group, which operates dealerships in six states, including North Carolina.

Schorr is a technology private equity investor. He recently announced that he would be creating a new technology-focused middle market private equity platform.

Neither the financial investment amount nor the percentage of interest in the club were disclosed.

Quote of the Week

“I think the guys that were on the roster last year, you know, I think we had the most points from a losing position…so there was the idea that no matter what happened within the game, we were going to find a way to fight and get back in it and do that. And, so, that’s kind of [been] maintained within this year as well. And the rest of the guys kind of bought into it and there’s a belief about it, too, so competitiveness is positive for these guys.”

– John Bradford on NCFC’s competitiveness and work rate

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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