It was a chilly evening at WakeMed Soccer Park as North Carolina FC and Chattanooga Red Wolves took the field for their USL League One match Saturday night.
North Carolina was playing their third game in eight days but still brought plenty of heat against one of the league’s toughest teams. And once again, a lot of that fire came from the pairing of forwards Garrett McLaughlin and Oalex Anderson. The two gave the Red Wolves defense all they could handle throughout the first half.
NCFC took the early lead in the 19th minute through some quality build out from the back. Anderson sprinted onto the end of a chip pass, taking the ball to the end line before cutting the ball back to McLaughlin at the penalty spot. Red Wolves goalkeeper Carlos Avilez had committed to covering the near post, leaving a wide-open net for McLaughlin, who buried the one-timer in the back of the net.
“We thought about how we wanted to play as a team formation, and having both of them up front, I think, is gonna be really difficult for teams to deal with,” head coach John Bradford said of the duo after the game.
The first half also saw temperatures rise on some chippy play. Between the fouls called, the fouls both teams thought should have been called, and a handful of yellow cards distributed, it was difficult for either team to find a flow in the first half.
But, despite some heated exchanges, North Carolina was happy to take the 1-0 lead into halftime.
Though the phrase “a tale of two halves” is a bit cliché, the second 45 minutes was a very different game from the opening 45. Chattanooga kept poking around the North Carolina defense, waiting for an opportunity to capitalize on a mistake. The Red Wolves found space to work early in the second half and finally broke through in the 60th minute.
Jose Carrera picked out Rey Ortiz near the top corner of the penalty area. Ortiz, who had just subbed on for Brian Bement, slipped by a challenge from Cole Frame and curled a shot around the defense. His perfectly placed shot found the top corner, just out of the reach of an outstretched Will Pulisic.
An unfortunate series of events would put the visitors on top in the 67th minute. North Carolina earned a corner kick. Christian Lue Young and Gustavo Fernandes had their shots blocked during the ensuing play. Chattanooga intercepted the ball and started upfield. Referee John Giggs played the advantage when it appeared that an NCFC player committed a foul near the top of their box.
That sprung their attackers, who had plenty of room to work since North Carolina had thin numbers in their end of the field. Ernesto Espinoza’s close-range shot was parried away by Pulisic. An attempted header cleared the ball just outside of the box. Angel España sprinted into the play, settled the ball, then blasted a right-footer that deflected off of a North Carolina defender past Pulisic.
Chattanooga would add an insurance goal three minutes later when Aaron Lombardi banged home a volley from the top of the box. At full-time, the final score was North Carolina FC 1, Chattanooga Red Wolves 3. A frustrating result for NCFC at the end of a busy week.
“For me, it’s disappointing because I thought the first half was very, very well-played by our guys; organized, focused, got a good goal in transition and [kept] a clean sheet,” said Bradford following the game. “The second half…the first two goals [Chattanooga] score, I think our guys would want back. There’s nothing more to do than to learn from those moments.”
Next up for NCFC is a visit from Greenville Triumph SC on Saturday, April 16. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): W. Pulisic; C. Lue Young, J. Skelton ©, G. Fernandes, N. Flores Blanco; R. Somersall, L. Arriaga, J. Servania, C. Frame; G. McLaughlin, O. Anderson
Chattanooga Red Wolves: C. Avilez; A. Lombardi, J. Luna, S. Capozucchi, D. Benton; J. Carrera ©, J. Cartagena, E. Espinoza, R. Mentingen; B. Bement
North Carolina FC: 1
Chattanooga Red Wolves: 3
North Carolina FC: G. McLaughlin (O. Anderson) 19’
Chattanooga Red Wolves: R. Ortiz (J. Carrera) 60’; J. España (unassisted) 67’; A. Lombardi (unassisted) 70’
North Carolina FC: J. Skelton (YC 15’); J. Servania (YC 37’); N. Flores Blanco (YC 85’)
Chattanooga Red Wolves: A. Lombardi (YC 16’); J. Luna (YC 38’); J. España (YC 64’); N. Cardona (YC 88’)