John Bradford and his North Carolina FC squad were more than ready to put 2021 in the rear-view mirror and hit the road for South Georgia for their first game of the 2022 USL League One season.
“We’re looking forward to actually playing and getting the season started,” Bradford said in a pre-match press conference. “It’s been a really productive and positive preseason. But it’s been a long one.”
With both teams eager to get off on the front foot, the game had a spirited start. NCFC’s Showkat Tahir got the season’s first yellow card just 25 seconds into the Saturday night tilt. The evening saw plenty of heavy challenges from both sides, with the referee busily scribbling names in his notebook throughout the match.
NCFC put some early pressure on Tormenta, particularly on set pieces. A free-kick from Luis Arriaga in the ninth minute connected with Anderson (Oalex), but he couldn’t get enough on the header to get it past Pablo Jara. The ensuing scramble caused problems for the Tormenta defense before they were able to clear their end of the field.
In the 18th minute, Anderson appeared to break free from a challenge in the Tormenta box. Joshua Phelps challenged Anderson as he broke toward the middle of the box. The NCFC forward went down in the penalty area, but it was Anderson earning a yellow card for simulation.
North Carolina broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute when their pressure created a turnover at midfield. Anderson, who would frustrate the Tormenta defense all evening, carried the ball down the left flank before picking out forward Garrett McLaughlin in the middle of the box. McLaughlin nodded home Anderson’s cross giving NCFC the early lead.
With the visiting team leading on the scoreboard, it was Tormenta gaining the upper hand in just about every other metric, holding nearly 70% of the possession throughout the game. But North Carolina’s solid team defense kept South Georgia from breaking through for a goal.
South Georgia saw two good chances late in the first half. In the 37th minute, Kingsford Adjei found himself unmarked at the top of the box with the ball at his feet. He fired at the goal but saw his attempt skim over the crossbar.
Five minutes later saw a nervy moment for NCFC when a defensive zone giveaway opened up an opportunity for Tormenta’s Alex Morrell. His left-footed shot across the box was tipped wide by NCFC goalkeeper Wil Pulisic.
South Georgia tried to take advantage of four minutes of added time in the first half to level the score. But North Carolina held the line and headed into the locker room with the 1-0 lead and plenty of confidence after a hard-fought 45+ minutes.
The physical play carried over into the second half. Tormenta earned a corner kick in the 54th minute. As the play was setting up, players on both sides were pushing and shoving, causing the referee to hold up play and unsnarl the mosh pit.
Tormenta continued their effort to catch North Carolina’s defense in a mistake. They found an opportunity to spoil NCFC goalkeeper Will Pulisic’s clean sheet in the 72nd minute. But the Pulisic had Jamil Roberts’ long-range blast covered, preserving the shutout and making an impressive debut for the club.
North Carolina’s night took a rough turn in the 79th minute when Nelson Martinez came in with a late challenge on Josue Soto that earned him a yellow card. Martinez then got into a shoving match with Soto, and the referee immediately showed him a second yellow ending his evening. Soto also received a yellow card for his part in the altercation.
Although they were forced to see out the game—including nearly 10 minutes of stoppage time—down a man, North Carolina’s defense, anchored by captain Jordan Skelton, neutralized Tormenta’s attempts to penetrate the goal.
When the final whistle blew at last, North Carolina FC left South Georgia with their first win of the season. It was a solid team performance that should provide plenty of momentum to carry them through a busy week.
Next up for NCFC is the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday, April 6, when they take on Rio Grande Valley FC. Then they’ll make their USL League One season debut at home when they face Chattanooga Red Wolves SC on April 9. You can get tickets for both games at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): W. Pulisic; C. Lue Young, N. Blanco Flores, J. Skelton ©, G. Fernandes; N. Martinez, J. Servania (C. Tolentino 90+2’), L. Arriaga, S. Tahir (D. Kerr 64’); O. Anderson (C. Frame 46’), G. McLaughlin (M. Flick 90+3’)
South Georgia Tormenta FC (4-1-4-1): P. Jara ©; C. Thorn, D. Nembhard, J. Dengler, J. Phelps; A. Billhardt (B. Sharifi 75’), G. Cabral, C. Heckenberg (J. Soto 75’), K. Adjei (K. Sterling 71’), A. Morrell (J. Roberts 69’); A. Bousa
North Carolina FC: 1
South Georgia Tormenta FC: 0
North Carolina FC: G. McLaughlin (O. Anderson) 22’
South Georgia Tormenta FC: none
North Carolina FC: S. Tahir (YC 1’); O. Anderson (YC 18’); N. Martinez (YC/RC 78’)
South Georgia Tormenta FC: A. Bousa (YC 5’); J. Soto (YC 80’)