We already know about the playoffs, so let’s start off with things that North Carolina FC is celebrating this week:
- Garrett McLaughlin had an outstanding month of September with four goals (0.8 goals per 90 minutes). Not only is he up for the Player of the Month honors, he still has a chance to catch Richmond’s Emiliano Terzaghi for the Golden Boot.
- Nico Rincon. Up for Goal of the Week, the 16-year-old wasted no time in showing off his star quality. With strong support and guidance from head coach John Bradford the veteran players around him, he is a superstar in the making.
North Carolina FC celebrated Nocha Latina and Fan Appreciation night in their final home game of the season Saturday against the Chattanooga Red Wolves. With nearly 5,000 fans on hand, NCFC gave it everything they had but came up short in a 1-0 loss to Chattanooga.
The Red Wolves needed a win to ensure a spot in the playoffs, while North Carolina was playing for pride, wanting more points and to possibly toss a wrench in the works for the visitors from Tennessee.
The game got off to a fast start with both teams creating opportunities at either end of the field. In the ninth minute, Rincon fed a through ball to McLaughlin who raced in behind the Red Wolves’ defense and had drawn goalkeeper Carlos Avilez all the way out of the 18-yard box. Nico Cardona came through with a spectacular slide tackle to keep McLaughlin—and North Carolina—off the scoreboard.
By all rights, McLaughlin should have had a hat trick on the night. In the 30th minute, he got his head on a magnificent cross from Nelson Flores Blanco, directing the ball on frame but it hit the crossbar.
In his first start since August 21st in Omaha, Nick Holliday came up huge in the 22nd minute, going full-stretch to stop a rocket from Chattanooga’s Josue España. He made another outstanding stop on a header from Daniel Navarro to keep the game in a scoreless deadlock.
Despite some spirited play and early chances at both ends, the game bogged down in a flurry of yellow cards distributed by referee Matthew Franz. Eleven cards were shown on the night: eight of them to NCFC, including a second yellow and ejection to Nelson Flores Blanco in the 75th minute.
With so many stoppages in play, it was difficult for either team to develop a rhythm and it felt like the outcome would once again hang on one play.
That play would happen in the 49th minute. NCFC wasn’t able to fully clear the ball out of their defensive third and after pinging around, it ended up at the feet of Juan Galindrez. The second half substitute carried the ball deep in the North Carolina end and just wide of the six-yard box. Under pressure from Britton Fischer and without any passing support in front of the net, Galindrez opted to try the shot himself. The ball bounced through the legs of Holliday and into the net to give the Red Wolves the lead on Galindrez’s first play of the game.
The Dead Whales had their work cut out for them over the remaining 40 minutes of the match. The quest to find the equalizer became more difficult when Flores Blanco was shown his second yellow card after expressing frustration when he appeared to be ready to get a clearing pass, but the ball bounced off of the referee. The ejection forced NCFC to play the remaining 15 minutes down a man.
With time ticking down, North Carolina pushed hard for a goal. Late substitute Jaden Servania delivered a brilliant cross into the box for McLaughlin in the 86th minute but his header skiffed wide of the net and slammed into the dasher boards.
At the end of five minutes of stoppage time, Chattanooga collected all three points and clinched a playoff spot, while it was disappointment for the boys in blue.
“You can tell that the guys certainly wanted to win this evening and get the three points and reward themselves for the work that they’ve been putting in all season,” Bradford said after the game.
“At the end of the day, it’s about creating chances and it’s about not making mistakes. We created chances and I think we made one costly mistake defensively that we give up the goal but didn’t execute in front of goal tonight. But, again, in terms of the work rate, in terms of adversity, and now you’re playing down a man and you’ve got to raise your work ethic and everything, the guys…left it out on the field.”
Next up for North Carolina FC is a trip to Charlotte to close out the season next Saturday against the Independence.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): N. Holliday; C. Lue Young, B. Fischer, J. Skelton©, N. Flores Blanco; Pecka (J. Servania 68’), N. Martinez (R. Somersall 46’), N. Rincon (M. Flick 77’), S. Adams (N. Molina 68’); O. Anderson, G. McLaughlin
Chattanooga Red Wolves: C Avilez; D. Navarro, T. Mehl, A. Lombardi, N. Cardona; J. Carrera©, J. Villalobos (U. Dos Reis 77’), J. España (J. Paez 68’); Yahir Paez (J. Galindrez 46’), E. Espinoza (I. Gutierrez 76’), R. Mentzingen (R. Ortiz 76’)
North Carolina FC: 0
Chattanooga Red Wolves: 1
North Carolina FC: none
Chattanooga Red Wolves: J. Galindrez (J. Carrera) 49’
North Carolina FC: J. Skelton (YC) 25’; N. Flores Blanco (YC) 32’; N. Rincon (YC) 33’; N. Martinez (YC) 43’; Pecka (YC) 57’; N. Flores Blanco (YC/RC) 75’; N. Molina (YC) 78’ ; Will Pulisic (YC) 79’
Chattanooga Red Wolves: J. España (YC) 28’; J. Paez (YC) 90+2’; J. Carrera (YC) 90+3’