After winning on the road at South Georgia Tormenta to start the 2022 campaign, North Carolina FC looked to continue building momentum going into their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match against USL Championship side Rio Grande Valley FC.
And for much of the Wednesday night match, it looked like NCFC was poised to upset the Toros, or at the very least, take them to overtime. But two second-half goals put the visitors on top, and they held off North Carolina 2-1 to move on to the next round in the Open Cup.
The opening 45 minutes saw a lot of spirited play with both clubs chasing the early lead. Jesus Vasquez nearly opened the scoring for Rio Grande Valley FC in the 30th minute, but his header missed the target.
It looked like the teams would head into halftime with a goalless draw, but the Dead Whales came up with a better idea for closing out the opening frame. Raheem Somersall got things going when he got past his defender and pushed the ball over to Oalex Anderson, who was waiting at the edge of the 18-yard box. With nothing opening up in the box, went to Christian Lue Young, who carried the ball down the right side of the box. Lue Young’s end-line cross was headed clear by an opposing defender but only as far as the feet of Jaden Servania.
Servania only needed a touch to get the ball right where he wanted it before sending a screamer into the top corner that Toros goalkeeper Colin Miller could do nothing about. With just a few seconds to go before halftime, North Carolina FC had the 1-0 lead.
Bradford was pleased with Servania’s overall performance in the game and looks forward to seeing even more creativity from him in 2022. “Anytime it’s on his left foot and when he’s on that inside kind of right position, formation-wise, we want him to be aggressive, we want him to create goals, and I think he’s gonna have a lot more of those as the season goes on.
Luis Arriaga nearly doubled NCFC’s lead in first-half stoppage time with a wild header off a free-kick, but the attempt went just over the bar.
North Carolina continued to pressure Rio Grande throughout the second half. But the Toros were starting to create effective counterattacks before drawing level in the 54th minute. Isidro Martinez played a ball through midfield for Frank Lopez. NCFC defender Jordan Skelton was closing in on Lopez when he lost his footing on the slick surface. That left Lopez alone, and despite a challenge from goalkeeper Will Pulisic, Lopez stayed composed and beat the keeper with a right-footer.
The Toros took the lead in the 79th minute. Again, it was Lopez taking on the North Carolina defense, but Skelton had him well-marked. Looking for relief, Lopez found Ricardo Ruiz just outside the 18-yard box. Ruiz played the ball way back to Frank Nodarse, rushing in from midfield. Nodarse leveled a blast that had enough on it to get past Pulisic on the near post. It was 2-1 to Rio Grande.
But John Bradford’s squad has shown plenty of fight through their first two games. It’s a group that knows how to deal with adversity and success without losing focus. They regrouped, and with several substitutes adding fresh legs, they challenged the Championship club throughout the final 10 minutes and stoppage time. But they could not find the equalizer, and the visitors from Rio Grande Valley left Sahlen’s Stadium victorious.
“There is a lot of fight in this group, and I think that in stretches where they had to defend and just dig in and continue to be that kind of workman-like group like they were last week at Tormenta, they show that’s going to be part of who we are this year,” said Bradford after the game.
Up next for North Carolina FC is the Chattanooga Red Wolves right back at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, April 9. You can get tickets for the game at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC: W. Pulisic; C. Lue Young (M. Flick 90’), J. Skelton ©, G. Fernandes, N. Flores Blanco; N. Martinez (C. Tolentino 89’), L. Arriaga, J. Servania, R. Somersall (D. Kerr 88’); G. McLaughlin, O. Anderson (C. Frame 82’)
Rio Grande Valley FC: C. Miller; S. Mueller, F. Nodarse (J. Cabezas Nunez 82’), J. Vasquez, J. Ricketts; E. Ycaza, W. Ackwei, I. Martinez; R. Ruiz (D. Herrera 82’), F. Lopez (R. Coronado 88’), D. Borczak
North Carolina FC: 1
Rio Grande Valley FC: 2
North Carolina FC: J. Servania (unassisted) 45’
Rio Grande Valley FC: Frank Lopez (I. Martinez) 54’; F. Nodarse (R. Ruiz) 79’
North Carolina FC: N. Blanco (YC 10’); O. Anderson (YC 53’); C. Lue Young (YC 77’); C. Tolentino (YC 90+4’)
Rio Grande Valley FC: F. Nodarse (YC 45+2’); J. Ricketts (YC 90+2’)