North Carolina FC looked to rebound from a disappointing result at home against South Georgia Tormenta FC last week by snapping Greenville Triumph SC’s unbeaten streak and banking all three points.
What went down at Sahlen’s Stadium Saturday night was, in the words of head coach John Bradford, “the most complete performance that we’ve put together so far this year.”
Their determination was evident from the opening whistle as NCFC took immediate control of the game. It took them just over six minutes to get on the scoreboard, thanks to some very intelligent play from Jaden Servania and Luis Arriaga.
The play started with Christian Lue Young bringing the ball down the flank and looking for Oalex Anderson in the box. Young’s cross went past Anderson but was too hot for the defender to clear out of the 18. Servania ran up on the ball and looked for a way to open space for a shot but spotted Arriaga making an unmarked run into the box and laid off the pass to him. With a clear shooting lane, Arriaga fired the shot past goalkeeper Paul Christensen to put NCFC on top.
It was an intelligently executed play that, Bradford noted, speaks to the culture developing on the team. “They don’t care who gets the goals… it’s all about just trying to get the effect of having something positive happen.”
For Arriaga, it was his first goal of the 2022 campaign. “Luis has a great spot and a great finish from him,” Bradford said following the game. “And that’s what we want more out of from him in that spot where he’s going to have those opportunities to score goals.”
However, a John Harkes-led team like Greenville wasn’t going to go down easy. Don Smart nearly found the equalizer for the Triumph in the 15th minute after breaking into the clear down the left side and cutting inside. NCFC captain Jordan Skelton did well to track Smart through the box, but the Greenville midfielder pulled the back to open a shooting lane. He blasted the ball on frame only to have Nicholas Holliday tip the ball over the bar.
Arriaga nearly bagged a brace late in the first half. It would be Servania linking up with him again at the top of the arc. Arriaga moved into space and blasted an angry line drive on goal. This time Christensen was able to tip the ball wide to keep the score 1-0.
One of the issues for NCFC early on in the season has been letting up at inopportune moments, letting the opponent back in the game, or going down a goal. While the Triumph tried to break through, North Carolina won challenges in midfield. And the back line, anchored by Skelton and Britton Fischer, made it a much easier night for Holliday.
In his season debut for North Carolina, Fischer turned in a very impressive performance. “I thought he played fantastic tonight,” said Bradford. “And, you know…he was gone for our entire preseason on trials in Europe and going and getting opportunities over there. And what happens when that happens is that, obviously, other guys come in, and we kind of build a little chemistry there, but I thought Britton, to his credit, stayed the course, has remained positive and he had an opportunity to step on the field for the first time this year, and he certainly made the most of it.”
Even though North Carolina did well to shut down any opportunities Greenville created, it felt like another goal would give the team, technical staff, and supporters a chance to exhale.
Bradford brought on Cole Frame in the 75th minute, and the midfielder immediately started pestering Greenville’s back line. Just three minutes into his shift, he appeared to slip in behind the defense and beat Christensen, but the linesman had the offside flag up, and the goal was disallowed. He had the game-winner on his boot in the final moments of regular time, but his shot off of a pass from Christian Lue Young sailed high.
After holding on through six minutes of stoppage—and plenty of fouls called deep on their defensive third—North Carolina FC got all three points, and for Nick Holliday, his first professional clean sheet.
“You had a feeling about the group tonight,” Bradford said afterward, “that they were going to make sure that they saw it out and got three points.”
Next up for NCFC is a home match against their rivals to the north, the Richmond Kickers. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. Saturday, May 28. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
In Other News
The club received more good news during the week. Midfielder Jaden Servania was called up to the Puerto Rican National Team for two upcoming Concacaf Nations League C games. Servania reports to camp in the Cayman Islands on June 5. Games against the Cayman Islands (June 9) and British Virgin Islands (June 12) will be streamed on Paramount+ at 6 p.m. EDT.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): N. Holliday; C. Lue Young, J. Skelton©, B. Fischer, N. Flores Blanco; J. Servania (G. Fernandes 84’), N. Martinez, R. Somersall, L. Arriaga; O. Anderson, G. McLaughlin (M. Flick 90+3’)
Greenville Triumph SC: P. Christensen; N. Shultz (J. Filerman 66’), E. Lee, B. Fricke, T. Polack; D. Smart (V. Evans 46’), A. Walker; J. Ibarra (J. Labovitz 81’), L. Coutinho, A. Gavilanes; J. Keegan
North Carolina FC: 1
Greenville Triumph SC: 0
North Carolina FC: L. Arriaga (J. Servania) 8’
Greenville Triumph SC: none
North Carolina FC: L. Arriaga (YC 62’); N. Martinez (YC 74’); G. McLaughlin (YC 90+3’); N. Flores Blanco (YC 90+6’)
Greenville Triumph SC: D. Smart (YC 35’)