North Carolina FC headed west to Chattanooga, TN, to take on the Red Wolves Saturday night. After battling Union Omaha to a draw last week, NCFC looked to continue on a positive trajectory.
There was plenty on the line as the teams headed into the mid-season match. Both clubs started the evening hanging around the playoff line, with sixth-place NCFC sitting on 19 points and Chattanooga one point behind them in ninth place. Three points could change fortunes for either team.
The Dead Whales were also looking to avenge their home-opening loss to the Red Wolves back in April.
With the stage set for the evening, let’s look at how the match unfolded.
North Carolina FC dodged a bullet in the game’s opening minutes after a defensive miscue deep in their end forced Jordan Skelton to make a dangerous tackle at the edge of the penalty area. Skelton got a yellow card for his effort, and NCFC had to defend a free kick from a very dangerous spot.
In the fourth minute, Chattanooga was awarded another free kick, this time about 35 yards out. Goalkeeper Will Pulisic and defender Gustavo Fernandes went up to make the play, but Fernandes headed the ball out of Pulisic’s hands, conceding a corner kick.
Pulisic would come up huge for his team in the 10th minute when he stretched to tip a shot from Nicolas Cardona over the crossbar. Moments later, Jaden Servania was called for a handball in the penalty area. Juan Galindrez was perfect on the conversion to put the Red Wolves up 1-0 less than a quarter of the way into the game.
The Dead Whales looked like they might reanimate in the 20th minute when a nice combination play between Max Flick and Garrett McLaughlin forced the Red Wolves defense to tackle the ball out for a corner.
If it wasn’t for bad luck, North Carolina had no luck at all in the first half. In the 27th minute, Chattanooga’s Jimmy Villalobos made clear contact with McLaughlin at the edge of the Red Wolves’ penalty area, but the referee waved off calls for a foul while the NCFC forward was slow to get back to his feet.
NCFC’s best chance of the half came in the 32nd minute when Luis Arriaga lifted a free kick to the opposite side of the penalty area. Skelton tapped the ball across the goal to an unmarked Shak Adams, but the forward had to take a couple of extra touches and ultimately didn’t appear to get the shot he wanted as the ball rolled agonizingly wide of the far post.
In the 38th minute, Servania served a beautiful cross into the box that McLaughlin flicked onto the foot of Arriaga. Arriaga appeared to have Carlos Avilez dead to rights with a wide-open net in front of him, but the Chattanooga goalkeeper made a phenomenal save to preserve the lead.
Just when it felt like North Carolina would be fortunate to get out of the half only a goal down, Chattanooga doubled the lead late in the first half.
Rafael Mentzigen got on the end of a long ball from Jose Carrera-Garcia and went to work deep in the attacking third. He whirled Flick around at the edge of the 18-yard box to open some space for a shot, then unleashed a golazo that curled around Skelton and beat Pulisic to make it 2-0 in the 42nd minute.
The second half saw some early pressure from North Carolina FC, with Arriaga and McLaughlin forcing Avilez into making some last-gasp saves in the first 10 minutes. Head coach John Bradford went to the bench before the 60th minute, bringing in Nicolás Molina, Christian Lue Young, and Cole Frame for Adams, Flick, and Martinez.
North Carolina finally took advantage of the Chattanooga goalkeeper’s seemingly casual second-half goal when Luis Arriaga ripped a right-footed shot from the edge of the box that Avilez again seemed slow to react to. Arriaga’s tally pulled NCFC to within a goal with a little over a half-hour left in the match.
NCFC had a chance to even the score late in the game when substitute Oalex Anderson was taken down heavily just outside the Chattanooga penalty area. McLaughlin took the dangerous free kick, but his attempt lifted over the crossbar.
In the end, an extra five minutes of stoppage time wasn’t enough for North Carolina FC to overcome their rough first half, and they fell to the Red Wolves 2-1.
Game Notes: North Carolina FC captain Jordan Skelton is the team’s Ironman this year, having played every minute of every game for his club so far this season. Shak Adams made his first start for North Carolina since he arrived on loan from Charleston Battery.
Chattanooga continued their winning streak against North Carolina FC, going to 6-0-0.
Next up for NCFC is a trip to Statesboro, GA, to take on South Georgia Tormenta FC on Saturday, July 23. The Dead Whales return to WakeMed Soccer Park Wednesday, July 27, when they face the Richmond Kickers. You can get tickets for all home matches at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): W. Pulisic; M. Flick (C. Lue Young 57’), J. Skelton©, G. Fernandes, N. Flores Blanco; L. Arriaga, R. Somersall (S. Tahir 87’), J. Servania (O. Anderson 80’), N. Martinez (C. Frame 59’); G. McLaughlin, S. Adams (N. Molina 57’)
Chattanooga Red Wolves: C. Avilez; N. Cardona, T. Mehl, Navarro (A. Lomardi 58’), D. Benton; Ualefi (J. Paez 58’), J. Carter-Garcia©, J. Villalobos (A. Tejera 75’); R. Mentzingen (A. Hernandez 75’), J. Galindrez, M. Espinoza (R. Ortiz 64’)
North Carolina FC: 1
Chattanooga Red Wolves: 2
North Carolina FC: L. Arriaga (N. Molina) 68’
Chattanooga Red Wolves: J. Galindrez (PK) 13’; R. Mentzingen (J. Carrera-Garcia) 42’
North Carolina FC: J. Skelton (YC) 2’; N. Flores Blanco (YC) 30’; G. Fernandes (YC) 33’; N. Martinez (YC) 47’; S. Tahir (YC) 90+2’
Chattanooga Red Wolves: N. Cardona (YC) 17’; Navarro (YC) 40’; A. Hernandez (YC) 88’; R. Ortiz (YC) 90+2’; Avilez (YC) 90+4’