North Carolina closed out the 2022 season Saturday night with a trip south to Charlotte to take on their rival, the Independence.
Although out of the playoff picture, NCFC wanted to go out on a positive note. And it didn’t hurt that they had a chance to throw a wrench in Charlotte’s playoff hopes. The Independence needed all three points from the game to lift them over the playoff line.
With Pride vs. Playoffs on the line, there was plenty of energy to start the game with chances at both ends in the first three minutes. But then the Jacks gained their footing and put NCFC’s defense under plenty of pressure over the next 10 minutes before North Carolina broke through midfield again.
Then it was the Dead Whales’ turn to press the Jacks’ defense with some good combination play generated from Oalex Anderson, Jaden Servania, and Nico Rincon. Garrett McLaughlin nearly added his 15th goal on the season in the 22nd minute when he sent a wicked curveball toward the net. Only the glove of Adrián Zendejas prevented NCFC from taking the lead.
But it would be the home team getting the lead in the 35th minute after a give-and-go with Gabriel Obertan set up Charlotte FC loanee Chris Hegardt for the game’s first goal. Charlotte would double the lead five minutes later when Obertan, who was left unmarked, hit a wicked shot that beat Nicholas Holliday for the 2-0 lead late in the first half.
It was a strong end to the first half for the Independence, pulling them over the line into the playoffs. Would North Carolina FC have enough left in the tank to play spoiler? Or would Charlotte turn up the heat to lock in their playoff spot?
McLaughlin stepped up with the early chance in the second half. His redirect header off of a lovely cross from Christian Lue Young nearly escaped the reach of Zendejas in the 47th minute. Four minutes later Servania was on the doorstep but the Charlotte keeper went into a full stretch to keep the ball out of his net.
NCFC sliced Charlotte’s lead in half in the 52nd minute when Max Flick fed a perfect through pass to Anderson into the attacking 18-yard box. Anderson opened space and fired the ball past Zendejas to make it 2-1.
But North Carolina FC barely had time to celebrate before Shalom Dutey got the ball over midfield to Obertan, who was in acres of space. The offside flag stayed down, and the French striker only had Holliday to beat to restore the Jacks’ two-goal lead.
Tresor Mbuyu’s one-timer from the edge of the box made it 4-1 in the 59th minute and it looked like the rout was on in the Queen City.
North Carolina FC kept chasing down opportunities through the final 20 minutes of their season. In the 81st minute Marvin Mariche went after the ball in the Independence penalty area. His pressure forced Zendajas to lose control of the ball but Mariche fell down and couldn’t take advantage of the Charlotte keeper being out of the play.
Ilya Shevtsov put the exclamation point on the evening in the 85th minute with a solid strike from 16 yards out that whizzed past Holliday to make it 5-1.
It certainly wasn’t the way John Bradford and his club wanted to close out the 2022 season, yet it seemed to encapsulate how the year went. Plenty of effort and heart, but critical mistakes were their undoing, costing them several results that could have turned the season around.
Final notes on the game: Although he traveled with the team to Charlotte, North Carolina FC was without the services of Nelson Flores Blanco, who had to serve his red card suspension from the Chattanooga game.
John McDowell, the 17-year-old rookie from Chapel Hill, made his professional debut for North Carolina FC, coming on for Pecka in the 86th minute.
Next up for NCFC is…the offseason. In the meantime, we’ve got hundreds of game photos in the galleries for you to enjoy as we get hyped for 2023.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): N. Holliday; C. Lue Young, J. Skelton©, B. Fischer (G. Fernandes 62’), M. Flick; R. Somersall (N. Molina 62’), Pecka (J. McDowell 86’), N. Rincon (M. Mariche 62’), J. Servania; G. McLaughlin, O. Anderson
Charlotte Independence: A. Zendajas; C. Dimick, S. Dutey, H. Acosta, K. Santos; C. Hegardt (M. Ibarra 69’), O. Ciss, Q. McNeill (A. Paez 83’), T. Mbuyu (T. Maya 86’); K. Bennett (I. Shevtsov 83’), G. Obertan (I. Conteh 69’)
North Carolina FC: 1
Charlotte Independence: 5
North Carolina FC: O. Anderson (M. Flick) 53’
Charlotte Independence: C. Hegardt (G. Obertan) 35’; G. Obertan (T. Mbuyu) 40’; G. Obertan (S. Dutey) 54’; T. Mbuyu (unassisted) 59’; I. Shevtsov (O. Ciss) 84’
North Carolina FC: J. Skelton (YC) 17’; C. Lue Young (YC) 41’; J. Servania (YC) 61’
Charlotte Independence: S. Dutey (YC) 66’; K. Bennett (YC) 75’