Coming off of a draw at home against FC Tucson, North Carolina FC hit the road for their final trip to Colorado for the 2022 season. With a draw and a loss to the Hailstorm, NCFC looked to take the win to even the season series.
Even more important, getting the win would move 10th place North Carolina to within three points of 9th place Northern Colorado and keep NCFC’s playoff hopes alive.
There were plenty of positives for NCFC to take away from their game against Tucson, a match they dominated for most of the 90 minutes. Showkat Tahir had his best game of the season, getting North Carolina’s lone goal, while goalkeeper Will Pulisic put on a performance that earned him a spot on the USL League One Team of the Week.
Despite some early pressure from North Carolina, it was Northern Colorado getting the early set piece with a free kick just outside the penalty area in the sixth minute. Arthur Rogers’ direct free kick cleared the NCFC wall and skipped over the crossbar, though Pulisic had the goal well covered.
NCFC conceded another free kick in the 15th minute and this time the Hailstorm made it count.
Rogers took the free kick from near the touchline, placing a perfect ball into the box that made it to the foot of Lachlan McLean, who buried it to give the home team the lead.
North Carolina had a promising drive downfield after Pecka won a free kick in their defensive end, but the Hailstorm regained possession and McLean sprung Trevor Amann with a long ball down the flank, putting him in alone against Pulisic. Gustavo Fernandes gave chase but was unable to catch up to Amann and he slipped the ball past Pulisic to double Norther Colorado’s lead in the 31st minute.
Things took a scary turn for the Dead Whales a couple of minutes later when Pulisic came out to challenge for the ball. Jerry Desdunes met the NCFC goalkeeper with a studs-up challenge at the top of the box, leaving Pulisic on the ground in considerable pain. Desdunes was shown a yellow card for the foul and, after getting treatment, Pulisic was able to continue in the game.
Chippy play set in as the first half wound down and it cost North Carolina dearly. Late in stoppage time, Jordan Skelton was whistled for a foul. Rogers sent a well-taken free kick into the penalty area. Pulisic made the initial save on the header from McLean, but Amann was waiting on the doorstep to put away the rebound making it 3-0 at the end of the half.
NCFC needed to be much more aggressive up the middle if they were going to take a bite out of Northern Colorado’s lead. And they were going to have to keep their cool against a Hailstorm side that proved particularly adept at drawing foul calls.
Bradford brought in Oalex Anderson for Tahir in the 56th minute to generate that pressure in the center of the pitch and he immediately made his presence felt, drawing a foul that led to a scoring chance and combining with Molina and McLaughlin to create some energy up front.
North Carolina nearly spoiled the clean sheet for Johan Penaranda in the 67th minute. Shak Adams lofted in a free kick and Fernandes’ redirected header was ticketed for the top shelf. But it just wasn’t NCFC’s night as the ball clanked off the crossbar.
Anderson created some more midfield magic in the 71st minute when he drove the ball up the center, taking on two Hailstorm defenders before being brought down in the penalty area. Anderson’s protests of being held by the Colorado defense were to no avail as referee Dejan Susak didn’t see enough to call for a penalty kick.
Then, in the 78th minute, Nelson Flores Blanco was whistled for a foul on Jackson Dietrich in the penalty area and Susak didn’t hesitate to point to the spot. Rogers made way for Amann to take the penalty kick, and even though Pulisic got a hand to the ball, it wasn’t enough to stop the Hailstorm forward from completing his hat trick.
Once again Anderson was pulled down in the Hailstorm penalty area in the 82nd minute and this time Susak awarded NCFC the spot kick. McLaughlin put his entire leg behind the penalty kick, hitting it so hard that in real time it looked like it ricocheted off the goalpost, but it came out of the back of the net.
Adding an exclamation point to the end of a rough night, McLaughlin took a hard knock on the last play of the game. As Northern Colorado players congratulated each other, NCFC players waved the training staff onto the field to tend to their leading scorer.
Final Notes: North Carolina FC missed the playmaking acumen of Jaden Servania and Christian Lue Young. Both players stayed in NC serving their yellow card accumulation suspensions.
McLaughlin’s converted PK marked his 11th goal of the season.
There were nine yellow cards distributed on the night. Six to Northern Colorado and three to North Carolina.
Next up for NCFC is Star Wars Night on Friday September 9 as they take on Central Valley Fuego FC. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): W. Pulisic; M. Flick, J. Skelton©, G. Fernandes (B. Fischer 81’), N. Flores Blanco; R. Somersall (N. Martinez 81’), L. Arriaga, Pecka (N. Molina 46’), S. Tahir (O. Anderson 56’), S. Adams (N. Rincon 81’); G. McLaughlin
Northern Colorado FC: J. Penaranda; A. Rogers, R. Cornwall©, B. Evans, W. Prentice; J. Desdunes, D. Robles (J. Dietrich 72’), D. Norman, N. Nortey (L. Folla 90+1’); T. Amann, L. McLean
North Carolina FC: 1
Northern Colorado FC: 4
North Carolina FC: G. McLaughlin (PK) 83’
Northern Colorado FC: L. McLean (A. Rogers) 15’; T. Amann (L. McLean) 31’; T. Amann (unassisted) 45+3’; T. Amann (PK) 79’
North Carolina FC: G. Fernandes (YC) 32’; R. Somersall (YC) 47’; J. Skelton (YC) 50’
Northern Colorado FC: R. Cornwall (YC) 7’; J. Desdunes (YC) 34’; E. Zayed/bench (YC) 36’; D. Robles (YC) 51’; A. Rogers (YC) 60’; T. Amann (YC) 74’