The Northern Colorado Hailstorm blew into WakeMed Soccer Park Saturday night and blew back out of Cary with a 2-1 victory over North Carolina FC.
Both clubs were coming off of a bye week during Week 4 of the USL League One season. For NCFC head coach John Bradford’s side, it was a chance to get everyone healthy and smooth out some kinks in training. But Bradford and his team were ready to get back on the pitch and kick off Week 5 of the season.
Although Bradford felt that NCFC took a few minutes to crank over their engine, the Dead Whales did have the first good scoring chance in the game. After drawing a foul in the sixth minute, Luis Arriaga delivered the free kick into the penalty area. Both Gustavo Fernandes and Garrett McLaughlin were making runs into the box, with Fernandes climbing the ladder to get the header on goal. Fernandes’ attempt was headed for the top shelf, but Hailstorm goalkeeper Thomas Olsen managed to tip the ball over the bar, keeping the game goalless.
But it would be the visitors from Colorado getting on the board first off of a set play. After a North Carolina foul, Arthur Rogers curled a free kick into the middle of the 18-yard box. His cross connected with Irvin Para, who placed his header just out of the reach of an outstretched Will Pulisic. It was 1-0 for Northern Colorado in the 18th minute.
North Carolina wouldn’t be down for long, however. With McLaughlin and Oalex Anderson putting pressure on the Hailstorm defense, a Northern Colorado defender made a weak attempt at a pass back to his goalkeeper, only to have McLaughlin and Anderson pounce on the loose ball. Anderson has been dishing out assists to his partner so far this season, but this time he helped himself to his first goal of the 2022 campaign.
It looked like the Hailstorm would grab the lead again in the 26th minute when Jordan Skelton looked to make a defensive play at the center circle. With the North Carolina defender going to the ground, Parra skipped over him and fed a pass through to Jerry Desdunes, who made the overlapping run. Desdunes turned on the afterburners to beat the defense and was in alone on Pulisic, who left the net to make the sliding block.
The teams went into the halftime break deadlocked at a goal apiece, despite NCFC having the upper hand in possession and duels won.
North Carolina FC picked up where they left off in the second half, dominating the game, despite some frustration setting in over what seemed to be some un-called fouls. Then, in the 74th minute, the Hailstorm defense misplayed the ball again. This time it was McLaughlin picking up the free ball. As he dribbled around the defender, it appeared the defender grabbed at him as he set up to take a shot. Another defender and the goalkeeper then clattered into McLaughlin. The referee refused to point to the spot with nearly everyone wearing a blue shirt braying for a penalty.
The visitors would take the lead again in the 80th minute off of a corner kick. The ball sailed to the center of the six-yard box, and Pulisic smacked the ball clear. As it bounced toward the middle of the penalty area, a Northern Colorado player attempted to play the ball. Several NCFC players called for a handball, but the referee, who had a clear sight of the alleged infraction, did not stop play. The ball landed at the feet of Danny Robles, who slammed it past Pulisic for his first professional goal.
The Dead Whales fought for the equalizer over the final 10 minutes of the game, but it was not to be. At the final whistle, the Northern Colorado Hailstorm recorded their first USL League One victory. It wasn’t the result John Bradford’s team wanted, but it was as close to a complete 90-minute performance as the team has had so far this season.
“…we have a good mentality about us to be able to stay within the game and then work something out and get it back…”North Carolina FC Head Coach John Bradford
“I thought we were the better team for the vast majority of the first half, and then in the second half created more dangerous chances, but we didn’t finish our chances,” Bradford said after the game.
“I felt we responded and every time we conceded a goal, in the first half or whatever, we have a good mentality about us to be able to stay within the game and then work something out and get it back. So, I was pleased with that.”
Next up for NCFC is a trip to the desert southwest as they visit FC Tucson on Saturday, May 7. Then it’s back to the friendly confines of Sahlen’s Stadium on May 14 as they take on South Georgia Tormenta. You can get tickets for the match at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
Final notes: Nelson Flores Blanco and Nelson Martinez are set to represent El Salvador on Sunday as they take on Panama in a friendly match at WakeMed Soccer Park. Nelson Martinez played the first half before making way for Cole Frame at halftime, while Nelson Flores Blanco was rested for Saturday’s game.
North Carolina FC: W. Pulisic; C. Lue Young, J. Skelton ©, G. Fernandes, M. Flick; R. Somersall (S. Tahir 86’), L. Arriaga, J. Servania, N. Martinez (C. Frame 46’); G. McLaughlin, O. Anderson (Pecka 74’)
Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC: T. Olsen; L. Folla, R. Cornwall, D. Ulysse (D. Norman 46’), S. McFaul (D. Robles 57’); J. Desdunes (M. Hernandez 64’), N. Nortey, S. Lukic (L. McLean 64’); D. Scally, I. Parra (T. Amann 74’)
North Carolina FC: 1
Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC: 2
North Carolina FC: O. Anderson (unassisted) 23’
Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC: I. Parra (A. Rogers) 18’; D. Robles (L. McLean) 80’
North Carolina FC: M. Flick (YC 17’); G. Fernandes (YC 81’); Pecka (YC 88’); C. Lue Young (YC 88’)
Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC: D. Ulysse (YC 36’); N. Nortey (YC 51’); A. Rogers (YC 65’); M. Hernandez (YC 88’); D. Scally (YC 90+2’); R. Cornwall (YC 90+6’)