Fresh off of a Wednesday night thriller that saw Christian Lue Young score the game-winning goal in the last minute of stoppage time, North Carolina FC was ready to ride the momentum into their Saturday evening match against Central Valley Fuego FC.
After that game, head coach John Bradford told reporters that he wrote on the locker room board that you have to “demand to win the game.” Instead, Central Valley demanded—and got—all three points as they left North Carolina with a 1-0 win.
NCFC put pressure on the Fuego defense, with Oalex Anderson picking up where he left off earlier in the week, frustrating the Central Valley defenders and helping to open up space for Nicolas Molina up top.
Once Fuego FC settled into the game, they had questions of their own for the North Carolina defense. There was a wild sequence in front of the NC goal in the 24th minute when Nicholas Holliday climbed the ladder to bat the ball away from the net, but the ball came out to a Central Valley player who volleyed a shot that hit the goalpost. That rebound came out to another Fuego attacker whose shot was deflected back again before Nelson Flores Blanco ended the sequence by firing the ball out to safety.
Nine minutes later, NCFC created their best scoring chance of the first half when Molina won the ball in his defensive end and sprung Anderson down the flank. Anderson drove deep into the Fuego end and sent a low ball across the box. Luis Arriaga made a great run onto the ball, but his shot went wide.
Central Valley stormed back down the field, and Fuego captain Villyan Bijev rifled the ball across North Carolina’s box. In a play reminiscent of Christian Lue Young’s game-winner Wednesday night, Nathan Smith was camped out at the far post and put the ball away and his team in front in the 34th minute.
It was a frustrating half for Bradford and his club.
“Obviously extremely disappointing,” he said after the game. “I didn’t think in the first half that we competed anywhere near what’s required to win a game. Certainly, on the goal, not defending, not doing the dirty work to get back and give the opposition a goal from three yards out.”
Going into halftime a goal down, NCFC had their work cut out for them. They were considerably more competitive in the second stanza, opening up the game and finding opportunities to even the score.
“The guys showed some character to continue to push forward and create some decent chances,” Bradford said, noting that they needed better quality on the finish. “A lot of these chances that we’re having that are good crosses, guys opening up the 18 [yard box] and not being able to convert. These are chances that we need to be able to be converted to win soccer games.”
The Dead Whales put together a nice sequence in the 58th minute that came oh, so close to getting them on the scoreboard. Max Flick lofted a ball toward goal from the top right corner of the box. A Fuego defender headed the ball out of the box, but it came to Nelson Flores Blanco, who fired a one-timer that was blocked out by the defense but only as far as Anderson. He fired a shot at the net only to watch it just skim over the crossbar and land in the top netting.
North Carolina kept pushing for the equalizer late in the game. Some give-and-go play allowed Lue Young to deliver a beautiful cross into the box right at the feet of Jaden Servania. With space and time, Servania blasted a shot on net, but Ofek Antman was equal to the challenge.
Unfortunately, NCFC could not spoil Antman’s clean sheet, and they went down to a 1-0 defeat.
Game notes: NCFC’s game against Central Valley was the first of a doubleheader, with the North Carolina Courage taking on the Kansas City Current in the twilight match.
Like many of their recent games, this game featured physical play with seven yellow cards given.
Next up for NCFC is a quick tour of the Midwest as they play at Omaha on Saturday, August 20, and Madison on the 24th. They return to the friendly confines of WakeMed Soccer Park to face FC Tucson on Saturday, August 27. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): N. Holliday; C. Lue Young, B. Fischer, J. Skelton©, N. Flores Blanco; N. Martinez Pecka 64’), R. Somersall, L. Arriaga, M. Flick (G. McLaughlin 64’) O. Anderson, N. Molina (S. Adams 75’)
Central Valley Fuego FC: O. Antman; M. Hornsby (M. Schenfeld 57’), S. Strong (S. Chavez 75’), W. Gillingham, N. Smith; C. Dieye (A. Vera 61’), V. Falck, O. Ramos, A. Cerritos (J. Partida 75’), V. Bijev©; J. Villareal (C. Chaney 56’)
North Carolina FC: 0
Central Valley Fuego FC: 1
North Carolina FC: none
Central Valley Fuego FC: N. Smith (V. Bijev) 34’
North Carolina FC: N. Martinez (YC 19’) J. Servania (YC 78’); S. Tahir (YC 90+4’)
Central Valley Fuego FC: C. Dieye (YC 40’); W. Gillingham (YC 45+’); V. Bijev (YC 61’); C. Chaney (YC 90+8’)