Practice makes perfect, and there could not have been a more perfect time for Shak Adams to bury a free kick he’s been working diligently on in training. His stoppage time stunner gave North Carolina FC a massive win in the season series finale against Forward Madison FC.
Late-game heroics against the Flamingoes are becoming a habit for NCFC. Remember Christian Lue Young claiming three points for the Dead Whales back on August 10 with a goal at the death?
But, like every North Carolina FC/Forward Madison FC match, there was plenty of action (and yellow cards), so let’s roll it back, shall we?
After a two-week layoff, John Bradford’s team was ready to get away from the training pitch and get some game time.
And it was a dream start at Bree Stevens Field for NCFC, with Showkat Tahir once again playing with the intelligence, confidence, and energy that has been gaining attention around the league. His efforts helped get North Carolina on the board just four minutes into Saturday evening’s match.
The scoring play started from the back with Lue Young delivering a great through ball to Tahir. He took a couple of light touches that settled the ball and drew several defenders toward him, then slotted a pass through the box to Garrett McLaughlin, who had no problem beating goalkeeper Raiko Arozarena for the early lead.
The first yellow card of the evening went to Madison’s Cesar Murillo in the 13th minute. With McLaughlin challenging for the ball at the edge of the penalty area, the Madison defender flung him hard to the ground. McLaughlin’s free kick went straight into the wall and deflected out for a corner kick. Tahir’s corner wasn’t cleanly dealt with from Arozarena, but no one from NCFC could get a foot on the ball make them pay the price.
Forward Madison thought they had the equalizer in the 19th minute off of a Mikey Maldonado corner kick. The far-post header went into the side netting but the Flock celebrated as if Cyrus Rad had scored, while NCFC goalkeeper Will Pulisic set up and took his goal kick. That would turn out to be the best scoring opportunity for the frustrated Flamingoes in the half.
Tahir continued to have a strong half, feeding several well-placed balls through to McLaughlin and Oalex Anderson, but unfortunately, his night ended early. He challenged Murillo for the ball at the top of the Flamingo box but the two clattered into each other with Tahir taking the worst of the hit around his knees.
After several minutes of attention from trainer Shawn Wilson, the English midfielder attempted to walk off his injury. But it was clear that continuing in the game would be too risky, and Bradford had to use an early substitution to bring on Raheem Somersall.
There were more tense moments for John Bradford and his training staff in the dying moments of the first half, Pulisic came out of his net to challenge Derek Gebhard for the ball and the midfielder clipped the NCFC goalkeeper in the head with his boot. While Pulisic received attention, referee Joshua Encarnación deliberated with players and his AR before giving Gebhard a yellow card for the reckless challenge.
Forward Madison’s struggle to break through continued in the second half, partially due to mistakes, but also owing to some well-organized team defense from North Carolina. The Mingoes didn’t register their first shot in the game until the 50th minute.
As regulation time ticked down, it looked like NCFC would start their tough road swing with a big win in Madison.
Not so fast! Forward Madison finally found a way through the North Carolina defense in the 81st minute. Matheus Cassini stripped the ball off of Nelson Flores Blanco at midfield and charged in on goal. Instead of trying the shot himself, Cassini squared the ball to Nazeem Bartman, who slotted the ball home for the late equalizer.
Ready for some stoppage time heroics? Let’s have some stoppage time heroics, courtesy of late-game substitute Shak Adams. In the third minute of stoppage, the striker lined up to take a free kick from about 25 yards out. His strike was absolutely clinical, placing the ball perfectly in the top corner, just out of Arozarena’s reach, to secure three desperately needed points.
Next up for NCFC is, quite frankly, a brutal stretch. First is a visit to Tucson, AZ on Tuesday, September 20, when they’ll finally play the match that was postponed in late July. They then travel to Charlotte to take on their Southern Derby rivals on Saturday, September 24 before returning home to play Central Valley Fuego FC on Wednesday, September 28. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): W. Pulisic; C. Lue Young, N. Blanco Flores, J. Skelton ©, G. Fernandes; Pecka (N. Martinez 70’), L. Arriaga, S. Tahir (R. Somersall 31’), J. Servania (M. Flick 90+5’); G. McLaughlin, O. Anderson (S. Adams 71’)
Forward Madison FC (3-4-3): R. Arozarena; C. Rad, M. Osmond, C. Murillo; D. Gebhard, M. Maldonado, A. Jones (A. Torres 46’), A. Wheeler-Omiunu (C. Enriquez 75’); J. Sukow (A. Mbacke Thiam 68’), J. Streng (N. Bartman 68), R. Smith (M. Cassini 46’)
North Carolina FC: 2
Forward Madison FC: 1
North Carolina FC: G. McLaughlin (S. Tahir) 4’; S. Adams (unassisted) 90+3’
Forward Madison FC: N. Bartman (M. Cassini) 81’
North Carolina FC: G. Fernandes (YC 24’);
Forward Madison FC: C. Murillo (YC 31’); M. Osmond (YC 18’); D. Gebhard (YC 45+4’); M. Maldonado (YC 50’); C. Rad (YC 90+2)