Coming off of a two-month span that was bumpier than a southern summer storm, North Carolina FC looked toward clearing a path to playoff contention.
Forward Madison FC was the first test in the month of August for the Dead Whales. It was also the first meeting between the two teams in the 2022 USL League One season. NCFC would have to face their guests from Wisconsin without their captain Jordan Skelton, who along with Will Pulisic who missed the game due to illness.
There was plenty of back-and-forth action as both teams got a feel for the game, but it was Forward Madison getting on the scoreboard first in the 24th minute. Jeremiah Streng made a good run to get behind the North Carolina defense and was in 1v1 on Nicholas Holliday. The NC goalkeeper made an impressive kick save on Streng’s shot, but the rebound landed right at the feet of Abdou Mbacke-Thiam who rifled it past Holliday for the early lead.
North Carolina FC has never lacked fight this season, and once again the team put in the work throughout the first half to stay in the game. But with Garrett McLaughlin working solo up front, head coach John Bradford deemed it necessary to bring in Oalex Anderson at halftime to stir things up.
“I circled some guys on the board for Oalex and said, ‘this is gonna be you in the second half and I want you to give these guys some problems’,” said Bradford after the game. “And obviously he’s coming back from a little bit of an injury thing…great, great spark to bring in the second half.
Anderson gave the Madison defense fits from the get-go and within a minute earned a penalty kick for the Dead Whales. McLaughlin converted the penalty kick to level the game for North Carolina.
The game got more physical as time ticked toward the 90th minute with 25 fouls called on the night. Mikey Maldonado, already sitting on a yellow card from the 28th minute, was shown his second yellow card and ejected from the game in the 86th minute, giving NCFC the man advantage for the final four minutes of regular and seven minutes of stoppage time.
With Anderson and McLaughlin teaming up to create havoc in the Madison defense, and Britton Fischer stepping in for Skelton holding things down in the back, the fans were on the edge of their seats, hoping North Carolina could hold on for that valuable point.
In the 97th minute, Holliday made a strong save on a tough right-footed shot from Streng. The play headed back toward the Madison end where Anderson sprinted around the Flamingo defense and fired a cross across the box where Christian Lue Young was waiting, unmarked. Lue Young was perfect with the finish, and the North Carolina FC bench erupted with what had to be a combination of joy and relief.
For Lue Young, it was a just reward for his persistence in working the flank to get involved in the offense.
“Yeah, I mean, you heard our guys over here on the sideline, Jordan Skelton and other guys…just continuously saying to Chris, ‘Keep going, keep going, keep going!’ and obviously for him to be able to get in the box and in the right spot in that moment,” Bradford noted. “So far this year, we’ve had those type of crosses throughout the year and then haven’t had guys that have gotten there, so credit to Chris in the 99th minute or wherever it was. He committed to be able to continuously push forward and give that opportunity for himself.”
Game Notes: Bradford was full of praise for the youngsters who stepped up at the last minute. “I thought [Fischer and Holliday] were exceptional. Nick, unfortunate to give up the goal, but…I’m not sure he could do anything [to stop the second shot]. I don’t think he put a foot wrong. And so, it’s a credit to him, and also a credit to the group that they have total belief in a young man who can step in and perform and then everybody has the same feeling that we’re capable of winning with him in the goal.”
As for Fischer, “Obviously, he’s been wanting to contribute more, and it’s been kind of touch and go for him in terms of minutes. Tonight, he really showed well and executed defensively and on the ball every time and especially getting up and winning important headers and things we’ve been working on in training. So, to see that come out and be shown positively in the game was really great to me.”
Next up, North Carolina plays host to Central Valley Fuego FC on Saturday, August 13 at 5 pm. It’s the first game of a double-header, with the North Carolina Courage playing the Kansas City Current in the second game at 8pm. Get your tickets for the doubleheader at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): N. Holliday; C. Lue Young, B. Fischer©, G. Fernandes, N. Flores Blanco; Pecka, R. Somersall, S. Tahir (O. Anderson 45’), J. Servania (M. Flick 90+9), L. Arriaga; G. McLaughlin (N. Molina 90+9)
Forward Madison FC: R. Arozarena; M. Osmond© (M. Temguia 58’), C. Rad, E. Leonard; M. Maldonado, A. Jones, D. Gebhard (C. Murillo 87’), A. Wheeler-Omlunu; R. Smith (A. Torres 87’), J. Streng, A. Mbacke-Thiam (J. Sukow 79’)
North Carolina FC: 2
Forward Madison FC: 1
North Carolina FC: G. McLaughlin (PK) 47’; C. Lue Young (O. Anderson) 90+7’
Forward Madison FC: A. Mbacke Thiam (unassisted) 24’
North Carolina FC: R. Somersall (YC 35’)
Forward Madison FC: E. Leonard (YC 5’); M. Maldonado (YC 25’; YC/ejection 86’)