North Carolina FC 0 – 1 South Georgia Tormenta
CARY, NC— It’s a new year with several new faces in the North Carolina FC lineup. After many weeks of pre-season training and scrimmages, it was time to get the 2023 party started on St. Patrick’s Day. And who better to kick things off with than the defending USL League One champions South Georgia Tormenta?
A 35th minute goal by Mukwelle Akale spoiled the party as the visitors left Cary with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
Five players made their debut for NCFC Friday night, including veterans Daniel Navarro, Mikey Maldonado, and Rafa Mentzingen, and made an immediate impression on the 3,429 fans who braved the blustery conditions at WakeMed Soccer Park.
With just a few scrimmages under their belt, there was already good chemistry percolating among the newcomers and returning players. “From day one not knowing names to now having nicknames, everyone’s smiling,” said Maldonado. “The chemistry’s gonna be there. It’s not, of course, where we want it, but it’s the first game of the season. We know that we’ve got 31 more games or something like that. So, we’ve got plenty of time to turn it around.”
The first half saw plenty of end to end action and a little bit of early season chippiness as both teams sought to establish themselves in the game.
South Georgia’s breakthrough came after their defense played the ball through midfield before John Murphy, Jr. lofted a long ball over the North Carolina defense. Akale at first appeared to be offside, but the assistant referee did not raise the offside flag. The Tormenta forward slipped behind the defense and slotted the ball past Nick Holliday for the game’s only goal.
With his team chasing the game, Oalex Anderson seemed to have an equalizer locked and loaded in his boots. His best attempt came in the 59th minute when Garrett McLaughlin pushed the ball to him at the top of the box. Anderson turned to create separation from the defense, then uncorked a right footer that forced Tormenta goalkeeper Pablo Jara to make a diving save.
Just a minute later it was Jaden Servania trying a long-range shot from 20 yards out that Jara blocked. But the ball came right to Anderson, but before the forward could get a shot away, he was submarined by Tormenta’s Davey Mason.
D.J. Benton and Luis Arriaga connected on a scoring attempt in the 75th minute when Anderson cycled the ball to Benton on the flank. The defender delivered a cross into the box that was out of McLaughlin’s reach, but Arriaga got his head to it only to watch it fly over the net.
It was a solid effort from North Carolina FC, even if the result wasn’t what John Bradford’s team wanted.
“To start the season with something other than three points and a win at home is obviously not what we wanted,” Bradford said in his post-game remarks. “But I think there’s a lot of encouraging points to the way that we played and the way the guys fought.”
“Any moment in the second half it felt like we were going to equalize and put ourselves right back into the game, and I think there’s a lot to build on for us.”
“I feel like we put [together] a solid 90 minutes,” said Mentzingen. “One mistake, one ball in behind, we got caught, they score, 1-0 early on. And then they dropped 11 guys behind the ball and to try to break it down, we couldn’t.”
North Carolina is going to have to let this result simmer for a while. Originally, the team was scheduled to fly out to Fresno, CA to play Central Valley Fuego FC, but the game is postponed due to flooding throughout California.
Next up for NCFC is their first ever match against newcomers Lexington Sporting Club on Saturday April 1. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): N. Holliday; D.J. Benton, D. Navarro© (N. Rincon 89’), G. Fernandes, N. Flores Blanco; L. Arriaga, M. Maldonado, R. Mentzingen, J. Servania; O. Anderson (S. Adams 75’), P. Popp (G. McLaughlin 56’)
South Georgia Tormenta FC: P. Jara©; N. Akoto, J. Dengler, P. Kilwien, D. Mason (D. Nembhard 80’); T. Otieno, P. Fonseca (M. Cassini 66’), J. Murphy Jr. (C. Heckenberg 66’); M. Akale (E. Amo 80’), A. Akindele (K. Adjei 62’), J. Khoury
North Carolina FC: 0
South Georgia Tormenta FC: 1
North Carolina FC: (none)
South Georgia Tormenta FC: M. Akale (Murphy Jr.) 34’
North Carolina FC: O. Anderson (YC 44’); N. Rincon (YC 90+2’)
South Georgia Tormenta FC: P. Fonseca (YC 18’); C. Heckenberg (YC 81’); M. Cassini (YC 86’)