Central Valley Fuego FC 0 – 2 North Carolina FC
North Carolina FC made their first trip to the west coast of the 2023 USL League One season when they visited Central Valley Fuego FC Friday night. The two teams thus far have been on very different trajectories, with the Dead Whales sitting at the top of the table, winning four of their last five matches, and Fuego having lost four of their last five contests.
A CONFIDENT START
North Carolina got off to a confident start, pinning the Central Valley defense back with a high press. They nearly grabbed an early lead in the 5th minute when Rafa Mentzingen blasted a shot from distance that forced Fuego goalkeeper Mitchell North to make the diving save for a corner kick. The ball pinged around the box before landing at the feet of captain Mikey Maldonado, but his shot lofted over the bar.
Though Fuego’s attack showed some signs of life, Nick Holliday was able to scoop up anything that came his way. At the other end, NCFC’s sustained pressure earned them five corner kicks within the first 25 minutes of the game.
North Carolina broke through in the 32nd minute when Oalex Anderson got back to his feet after being shoved to the ground in midfield. He kept control of the ball into the attacking third, then threaded a pass through the box to Mentzingen, who made the overlapping run. There wasn’t much North could do against the Golden Boot leader, who put the visitors on the board.
NCFC nearly doubled the lead in the 37th minute off of a great heads-up counterattack from a Fuego free kick. Jaden Servania made the run down the flank before delivering a pass to Anderson at the far post. Anderson’s shot was ticketed for the opposite corner, but it just slipped wide of the post.
The Dead Whales took the 1-0 lead into halftime after outshooting Central Valley 9-1 (3-0 SOT).
KEEPING LEVEL HEADS
Central Valley has an earned reputation for playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. As the first half ticked down, it was clear that they were trying to draw the visitors into some ill-advised retaliation fouls. If NCFC was going to build on their lead in the second half, they would need to keep cool heads.
North Carolina earned a foul outside the Fuego 18-yard box in the 59th minute. Servania, Mentzingen, and Louis Perez convened over the ball to strategize the set piece. It was Perez rocketing the free kick to the top shelf giving North Carolina the 2-0 lead in the 60th minute.
Fuego countered with yet another attempt to goad the visitors into some extra-curriculars when Gustavo Fernandes allowed the ball to go over the end line, and Diego Casillas gave him a shove into the dasher boards. Casillas earned a yellow card for his trouble and was promptly subbed out by Fuego head coach Martin Vásquez.
For the third game in a row, Central Valley lost a player to a red card. In the 75th minute, Razak Cromwell was fouled by Garrett McLaughlin. Cromwell threw McLaughlin to the ground, setting another shoving match between the two sides. Cromwell was shown the yellow card for his retaliation. Inexplicably, the second-half substitute decided to challenge the booking and made contact with the referee, who sent him to the showers, leaving his team to see out the final 15 minutes with ten men.
Up by two goals and one man, North Carolina was more than happy to keep possession of the ball and absorb any counter attempts from Central Valley Fuego for the last minutes of the match. Late substitute Shak Adams nearly added a late third goal when he fought through the Fuego back line before getting a shot off that North deflected out of the reach of Mentzingen and over the end line.
He wasn’t tested too often, but Holliday came up with the punch or catch when he needed to, earning their second clean sheet in three games.
NEXT UP FOR NCFC
North Carolina FC returns to WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, May 13, to take on the Flamingoes of Forward Madison FC. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): N. Holliday; C. Lue Young, G. Fernandes, D. Garcia N. Flores Blanco (D.J. Benton 88’); L. Arriaga, M. Maldonado©, L. Perez (R. Somersall 69’), J. Servania (S. Adams 79’); R. Mentzingen (D. Navarro 88’), O. Anderson (G. McLaughlin 69’)
Central Valley Fuego FC: M. North; J. Partida, S. Chavez© (R. Cromwell 46’), F. Dulysse, O. Lemus (A. Vera 88’); R. Cerritos, O. Ramos (V. Falck 79’), J. Carrera-Garcia; V. Bijev, D. Ramon (Z. Vasqzuez 46’), D. Casillas (H. Hanson 64’)
Can't stop winning pic.twitter.com/9x7dXoEggd— North Carolina FC (@NorthCarolinaFC) May 6, 2023
North Carolina FC: 2
Central Valley Fuego FC: 0
North Carolina FC: R. Mentzingen (O. Anderson) 32’; L. Perez (unassisted) 60’
Central Valley Fuego FC:
North Carolina FC: D. Garcia (YC) 36’; R. Mentzingen (YC) 65’
Central Valley Fuego FC: O. Lemus (YC) 24’; S. Chavez (YC) 45+2’; D. Casillas (YC) 62’; R. Cromwell (YC) 77’; R. Cromwell (YC/RC) 78’