North Carolina FC traveled to Fresno, CA, to take on Fuego FC Saturday night. It was the first-ever matchup between the two clubs, with the California club joining USL League One this season.
Riding a four-game unbeaten streak, NCFC aimed to be as hot as the Central Valley weather (game-time temperatures were pushing triple digits).
Facing a heavy week with three games in seven days, head coach John Bradford made some adjustments to the starting lineup. Nicholas Holliday got the start in goal, Max Flick stepped in at fullback, and Oalex Anderson was partnered up front with Nicolás Molina to begin the match.
Looking for their first-ever home win, Central Valley wanted to come out on the front foot against the visitors. They were effective in challenging Holliday to make some decisions early in the game.
It took North Carolina FC about 10 minutes to shake out the road legs and start putting pressure on the Fuego FC defense. But while the game opened up, things also got rather spirited under the hot California sun.
By the 18th minute, tempers started to boil over. Nelson Flores Blanco was taken down by a bad tackle from Fuego midfielder Ozzie Ramos, bringing players on both sides into a shoving match. When the dust settled, Ramos was shown a yellow card for the original foul, while Jaden Servania and Sergio Chavez were each booked for their part in the hostilities.
Flores Blanco tried to continue in the game but went down a few minutes later, forcing Bradford to bring on Christian Lue Young in the 27th minute.
Fuego FC put the first goal on the board in the 30th minute. Max Schenfeld’s long-range volley beat Holliday to put his team in the lead.
But Oalex Anderson answered in the 37th minute. Servania put the through pass right into Anderson’s path, and the forward took a couple of touches into space before burying a laser shot past Fuego goalkeeper Ofek Antman.
North Carolina nearly took the lead at the end of first-half regulation when Anderson served up a low ball across the mouth of the goal, but Luis Arriaga couldn’t catch up to finish the play. Anderson would put in a very solid 78-minute shift for NCFC, creating several opportunities for his club.
Moments later, Fuego got the go-ahead tally when Christian Chaney’s shot beat Holliday and hit the underside of the crossbar. The linesman signaled that the ball had crossed over the line, and Central Valley was awarded the goal five minutes into stoppage time.
A chippy first half ended with 14 fouls (6 to NCFC), five yellow cards, and an early injury substitution for North Carolina. Although the team responded well after going down 1-0, they were going to have to figure out a way to banish defensive jitters and deal with a physical Central Valley Fuego squad.
The Dead Whales looked like they would level the score early in the second half when Lue Young carried the ball deep in the attacking end and served a cross to Anderson, but it came in a little too hot, and Anderson’s attempt sailed high over the goal.
NCFC thought they had the equalizer in the 68th minute when Christian Lue Young’s shot deflected off of the Central Valley defender to Anderson, who beat Antman, but Anderson was determined to be offside, and the goal was waved off.
The frustration piled up for North Carolina in the second half with two free-kick opportunities that came up short and the home club being more than happy to park the bus and wait for an opportunity on the transition.
Things went from bad to worse for NCFC in the 75th minute when Fuego FC went on the counter-attack. A long cross missed everyone, but Central Valley was able to keep the play alive. They worked the ball around for a shot that was headed clear but wound up at the foot of Diego Casillas. He took aim at the goal, but Chaney—still on his knees after a collision in the box—redirected the shot with his head past Holliday.
With a 3-1 score line heading into the last 15 minutes of the game, North Carolina’s path to salvaging points got a lot harder.
Enter the Golden Boot leader. In the 90th minute, McLaughlin snuck in behind the Fuego defense and redirected Max Flick’s shot past Antman to cut the deficit in half. NCFC kept the pressure on through six minutes of stoppage time, earning another free-kick late in extra time. But at the final whistle, it was Central Valley Fuego FC holding on for the 3-2 victory.
Next up for NCFC is a trip to Greenville where they hope to reignite their unbeaten streak against the Triumph on Wednesday, June 29, and a trip up to Richmond on Saturday, July 2. They return to Sahlen’s Stadium on Saturday, July 9, to face Union Omaha. Get your tickets for the Pride Night game at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC: N. Holliday; M. Flick, J. Skelton©, G. Fernandes, N. Flores Blanco; L. Arriaga, R. Somersall, J. Servania (S. Tahir 78’), N. Martinez (N. Rincon 87’); O. Anderson (C. Frame 78’), N. Molina (G. McLaughlin 78’)
Fuego FC: O. Antman; T. Akinlosotu (M. Torralva 69’), M. Hornsby (C. Dieye 81’), F. Dulysse, S. Chavez©; V. Falck, D. Casillas (D. Diaz 78’), O. Ramos (J. Partida 70’), V. Bijev, M. Schenfeld; C. Chaney (W. Gillingham 78’)
North Carolina FC: 2
Fuego FC: 3
North Carolina FC: O. Anderson (J. Servania) 37’; G. McLaughlin (M. Flick) 90’
Fuego FC: M. Schenfeld (unassisted) 30’; C. Chaney (M. Schenfeld) 45+5; C. Chaney (D. Casillas) 75’
North Carolina FC: J. Servania (YC 18’); G. Fernandes (YC 45+2); O. Anderson (YC 66’);
Fuego FC: O. Ramos (YC 17’); S. Chavez (YC 18’); F. Dulysse (YC 22’); O. Antman (YC 65’); D. Diaz (YC 80’)