The spotlight as on Tucson, AZ Tuesday night as North Carolina FC’s match against FC Tucson was the lone match on the card.
Why the rare Tuesday night game? The teams were originally scheduled to face off on July 30th, but travel issues and severe weather forecast in Arizona forced its postponement.
The last time these two teams met in Cary on August 27th, it looked like Showkat Tahir’s 18th minute goal would hold up, but Tucson got a late equalizer and NCFC had to settle for a draw in a game that they had dominated.
And just as the teams were getting ready to kick off…
Two hours and forty minutes later, it was time to kick things off. Got your coffee? Let’s go!
NCFC would be without the services of Tahir, who sustained a knee injury in Madison last Saturday. They also had to replace Nelson Flores Blanco, who was called up to the El Salvador National Team for their upcoming friendly against Peru.
However, Nicolas Rincon got his first professional start, and Shak Adams was tapped to start in hopes he could recreate the thrills that earned his team three points in Wisconsin.
After the lengthy delay, it took both teams some time to get their legs in the game. In the 11th minute, a miscommunication between goalkeeper Carlos Merancio and his defense saw the ball come to Max Flick. He sent a cross over to Rincon, but he didn’t get good contact on his shot and it sailed well over the goal.
But the 16-year-old showed some great energy for North Carolina through 68 minutes of play, which seemed to help pick up his road-weary teammates as they grew into the game throughout the first half.
NCFC opened the scoring in the 29th minute off of a very well taken free kick from Rincon. His line drive into the box found its way to Flick through a scrum in the box. Flick drove the ball home, only to have the score called back for offside when the officials ruled the ball bounced to him off of a teammate.
The Dead Whales shook off that disappointment and kept pressing FC Tucson and nearly got on the board in the 34th minute. Again, it was Rincon with a great ball in that Garrett McLaughlin got his head on, but the attempt glanced off the crossbar and Adams didn’t get the angle he wanted on the rebound header.
Minutes later, Adams and McLaughlin were in behind the Tucson defense, but McLaughlin’s touch let him down and his attempt missed the net.
Late in first half stoppage, Luis Arriaga broke downfield and with the FC Tucson defense closing in around him, unleashed a wicked shot from the top of the box that Merancio had to tip over the bar.
All things considered, it was a strong showing for the Dead Whales in the first half, with seven shots and dominating possession. But for a disallowed goal and better finishing, it was 45 minutes they could be happy about.
If the disallowed score in the first half frustrated North Carolina, the 66th minute penalty call had them fuming. After getting knocked around in the Tucson box throughout the first half without a call, it looked as if Louis Perez toppled over with very minimal contact from Gustavo Fernandes.
But the head official pointed to the spot and Perez sent Will Pulisic the wrong way to convert the penalty kick for what would be the game-winning goal.
The controversial penalty came on the heels of another head-scratcher when Raheem Somersall tracked back and got a toe on the ball to knock it away from Daniel Bedoya just outside of the 18-yard box. But Bedoya collapsed to the turf and Somersall was deemed to have committed a foul, giving FC Tucson a free kick in a dangerous spot.
Sixty-eighth-minute substitute Jaden Servania made an impact from his first touch when he drove down the flank and fired off a shot that deflected out for a corner. But, despite their efforts to find the late equalizer, North Carolina just couldn’t regain their rhythm and overcome choppy, stop-and-go action.
It was a disappointing end to the trip out west in a game where NCFC did almost enough to win. And it’s no secret that they desperately needed three points to preserve their chances at post-season play.
Final notes: Marvin Mariche, entered the game for North Carolina in the 88th minute. The NCFC Academy alum signed a professional contract with the first team last week. He made his professional debut in the 2020/21 season against the Richmond Kickers, while he was on an Academy contract.
Jaden Servania was called up to the Puerto Rico National Team, but their match against the Dominican Republic was called off due to Hurricane Fiona.
Next up for NCFC is a return to North Carolina but not an end to the road trip. The Dead Whales play at Charlotte this Saturday. They finally return to the friendly confines of WakeMed Soccer Park on Wednesday, September 28 for their rescheduled match against Central Valley Fuego FC. Get your tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): W. Pulisic; C. Lue Young, M. Flick, J. Skelton ©, G. Fernandes; R. Somersall (Pecka 68’), L. Arriaga, N. Rincon (J. Servania 68’), N. Martinez (M. Mariche 88’); G. McLaughlin, S. Adams (O. Anderson 67’)
FC Tucson: C. Merancio; J. Crull, E. Kinzner, L. Mastrantonio, K. Fox; D. Bedoya, B. Fahling (J. Delgado 85’), L. Perez (C. Machell 76’); T. Weir, D. Toia (F. Garcia 85’), G. Calixtro (T. Allen 76’)
North Carolina FC: 0
FC Tucson: 1
North Carolina FC: none
FC Tucson: L. Perez (PK) 66’
North Carolina FC: R. Somersall (YC 44’); G. McLaughlin (YC 48’); L. Arriaga (YC 62’); C. Lue Young (YC 68’)
FC Tucson: L. Mastrantonio (YC 21’)