There are bad days. And then there are the-opposing-goalkeeper-scored-on-your-team-on-a-punt-from-his-own-end kind of days.
With few exceptions, Saturday’s trip to Omaha is one North Carolina FC wants to forget as quickly as possible.
Things went pear-shaped for the Dead Whales immediately when Union Omaha goalkeeper Kevin Piedrahita collected the ball in his own 18-yard box and sent a long punt down the field. It bounced off the turf and over Nicholas Holliday’s head. The NCFC goalkeeper gave chase, but there was nothing else he could do, and less than 30 seconds into the match North Carolina was already in the hole.
It didn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse. In the 6th minute, Omaha’s Corey Hertzog found himself with miles of space just outside of North Carolina’s 18-yard box. With plenty of time to pick his target, he curled the ball around Jordan Skelton and out of Holliday’s diving reach and it was 2-0 before the Parliament had time to finish their first beers.
You won’t hear anyone associated with North Carolina FC using the field as an excuse, but there was no doubt the dimensions and lively surface gave the NCFC defense all kinds of problems. The ball often looked more like one of those gumball machine super balls bouncing on the surface and that lead to the Owls’ third goal.
Ryen Jiba lofted a long ball downfield for Noe Meza. The ball took another big, speedy bounce beyond North Carolina’s back line. Meza was able to easily get onto the end of the pass and lobbed the ball over Holliday to make it 3-0 within the first 20 minutes of the match.
Although they struggled to put together any sustained possession, NCFC did manage to find a couple of scoring opportunities in the first half. Late in the half, Nelson Flores Blanco made a run deep in the Omaha end and gave the ball over to Garrett McLaughlin. The striker tried to lift the ball over Piedrahita, but the ball bounced off of the crossbar and out to safety.
So, while a 0-3 scoreline looked dire, North Carolina was asking some questions of Piedrahita and his back line in the final minutes of the half. That definitely was something for the Dead Whales to build from.
Unfortunately, the frustration took its toll on NCFC early in the second half. Around the 46th minute, Jaden Servania appeared to have been stepped on at midfield and was down. Britton Fischer subsequently conceded a foul and referee Chris Ruska gave the young center back a firm talking to.
Two minutes later, Joseph Brito got caught between Raheem Somersall and Jordan Skelton with a foul called on North Carolina. But after the whistle, Nelson Flores Blanco kicked the ball right at Brito, who was still on the ground. A brief tussle ensued, and Blanco’s indiscretion earned him a straight red card. With well over 40 minutes to play, NCFC was down to 10 men.
Servania came out of the game in the 54th minute after taking a few hard knocks in the game. He was replaced by Nicolás Molina, in hopes of generating an offensive spark.
But it was Union Omaha adding to the score in the 58th minute off of a set piece. Alex Touche got his head on the corner kick into the box and Meza was there with the finish and the rout was complete.
North Carolina continued to push to get on the score sheet. In the 62nd minute, Gustavo Fernandes chipped a beautiful ball into the box for McLaughlin, who stayed onside. Unfortunately, McLaughlin needed some extra touches to corral the ball and the chance was canceled out by the Omaha defense. A 68th minute opportunity hit the side netting.
Once again, frustration got the better of the young NCFC team and this time it was Fischer who got an early shower. Skelton attempted a pass to Fischer at the top of their 18-yard box, but Meza jumped in and intercepted the ball. Fischer hauled him to the ground at the corner of the penalty arc and the referee immediately whistled the foul.
Fischer then booted the ball away in anger and referee Rusk showed one yellow card for the foul, and a second one for the reaction to the call and with more than 20 minutes left the Dead Whales were down to nine men.
North Carolina was able to take some solace in Holliday coming back to make some strong saves and the depleted back line coming together to lock out the Owls. And in the game’s dying moments, McLaughlin finally broke through for a goal with an assist from recent signee Nicolas Rincon. The 16-year-old rookie created the chance with some incredible footwork down the flank before he slipped the pass through to McLaughlin to ruin Piedrahita’s clean sheet.
It doesn’t get any easier for NCFC. They travel to Wisconsin for a mid-week match against Forward Madison and they won’t have Nelson Flores Blanco or Britton Fischer to call on since both will be sitting out with red card suspensions.
Next up is a visit to Madison to finish the road swing before they return to WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, August 27 to face FC Tucson. You can get tickets for all home games at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC: N. Holliday; B. Fischer, J. Skelton, G. Fernandes, N. Flores Blanco, C. Lue Young (M. Flick 64’); L. Arriaga (N. Martinez 70’), J. Servania (N. Molina 54’), R. Somersall, G. McLaughlin, S. Adams (N. Rincon 63’)
Union Omaha: K. Piedrahita; R. Jiba, D. Knutson, A. Touche (G. Claudio 62’), E. Gordon; C. Doyle, C. Willis (E. Alihodžić 63’), J. Brito, L. Gil (Y. Galvan 63’); C. Hertzog (A. Bruce 72’), N. Meza (R. Rivera 71’)
North Carolina FC: 1
Union Omaha: 4
North Carolina FC: G. McLaughlin (N. Rincon) 90+1’
Union Omaha: K. Piedrahita (unassisted) 1’; C. Hertzog (unassisted) 6’; N. Meza (R. Jiba) 17’; N. Meza (A. Touche) 58’
North Carolina FC: N. Flores Blanco (RC 49’); G. Fernandes (YC 55’); B. Fischer (YC 68’; YC/RC 68’)
Union Omaha: A. Touche (YC 29’); E. Gordon (YC 52’); Y. Galvan (YC 90+2)