“Obviously, the best thing to do after a frustrating loss is to play again.”
Those wise words come from North Carolina FC head coach John Bradford before his team traveled to Charlotte to close out their three-game road trip.
Despite some early pressure from NCFC, it was Charlotte who got on the scoreboard in the 10th minute. And it came on the counterattack off of a North Carolina free kick when Luis Arriaga’s chip over the wall was cleared out of the box.
Tresor Mbuyu picked up the ball and motored through midfield and into the NCFC box, with Chris Hegardt making a supporting run to his left. Mbuyu’s groundball cross was perfectly placed for Hegardt to run onto, and he picked out the top corner to give the Independence the early lead.
As tired as NCFC has to be, given the absurdity of their schedule, they responded to the deficit with plenty of spirit and energy as they pushed for the equalizer.
On the other side of the ball, the Independence were becoming their own worst enemy. In the 17th minute, Shalom Dutey committed a silly foul on Garrett McLaughlin and then kicked the ball away in frustration, earning a yellow card from head referee Danielle Chesky. By the end of the first half, three Charlotte players—two of them defenders—were sitting on yellow cards.
Charlotte continued conceding set-piece opportunities, but North Carolina just didn’t have enough polish on the finish to make them count.
There was a scary moment for NCFC late in the first half when Oalex Anderson made a run through Charlotte’s defensive end, and his momentum carried him to the dasher boards. He appeared to try to stop himself by leaning on one of the boards, but it gave way, sending Anderson tumbling. He remained down, drawing concern from his teammates and Charlotte players before getting attention from the trainer. Fortunately, he was able to continue in the game.
Despite plenty of good effort from NCFC, Charlotte’s Omar Ciss uncorked a Worldie in first-half stoppage time to double the Independence lead. Obviously, not the way John Bradford’s team wanted to go into halftime, but they were clearly still in the game.
North Carolina withstood some early pressure from the Jacks in the second half before the game settled back into the patterns established in the first half. NCFC had a good case for Ciss getting a second yellow in the 54th minute when he dumped McLaughlin to the turf as the NCFC forward was making a run through the Charlotte defensive third. With another Independence player nearby when the foul took place, captain Jordan Skelton’s passionate pleas for a DOGSO ejection were brushed aside by Chesky.
Charlotte did see red in the 79th minute when Gabriel Obertan went studs up into Raheem Somersall’s midsection. Chesky went straight to her pocket and pulled out the red card, giving NCFC the man advantage for the last 10 minutes of the match.
Within two minutes, Max Flick played the ball inside the Charlotte penalty area when he went down after some contact from Hegardt.
Cool, calm, and collected, McLaughlin waited while Chesky spent a good 90 seconds warning players about encroachment. The North Carolina forward finally got the go sign from the referee and wasted no time burying the ball behind Adrian Zendejas to cut the Charlotte lead in half.
Independence head coach Mike Jeffries responded by going to a five-back. At the same time, Bradford brought Nicolas Molina into the game to provide attacking power and a tall target for crosses and lofted balls from midfield.
But even with an intense push to salvage a point from the game, North Carolina FC didn’t find the back of the net again and faced a disappointing trip back to Cary.
So, are they out of the playoff picture? The short answer is no. Mathematically NCFC still has a chance at post-season play. But not only will they have to pull every point out of their remaining games, but they’re also going to need a lot of out-of-town results to break their way.
The good news for the Dead Whales is they will spend the remainder of the 2022 regular season in North Carolina. They have one road trip remaining, a rematch in Charlotte on October 15.
Next up for NCFC is another quick turnaround as they play their rescheduled match against Central Valley Fuego FC on Wednesday, September 28. Their home stand continues on October 1 as they face Union Omaha. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): W. Pulisic; C. Lue Young, J. Skelton©, G. Fernandes, M. Flick; R. Somersall, Pecka, J. Servania (N. Molina 84′), L. Arriaga; O. Anderson, G. McLaughlin
Charlotte Independence: A. Zendejas; K. Santos (C. Talboys 86′), H. Acosta, S. Dutey, C. Dimick; C. Hegardt (G. Barber 84′), I. Conteh (W. Vint 90+3′), O. Ciss, G. Obertan; T. Mbuyu (T. Maya 86′), K. Bennett (I. Shevtsov 84′)
North Carolina FC: 1
Charlotte Independence: 2
North Carolina FC: G. McLaughlin (PK) 85′
Charlotte Independence: C. Hegardt (T. Mbuyu) 10′; O. Ciss (unassisted) 45+1′
North Carolina FC: none
Charlotte Independence: H. Acosta (YC) 12′; S. Dutey (YC) 17′; O. Ciss (YC) 35′; G. Obertan (RC/ejection) 79′; C. Dimick (YC) 90+6′