North Carolina FC 3 – 2 Richmond Kickers
Cary, NC—It wouldn’t be a proper Dead Whales v Roos matchup if the scoresheet didn’t get a little wild.
After a first half that saw Richmond’s João Gomiero net a brace with goals three minutes apart, North Carolina FC found their focus and determination, sending their rivals back up I-95 empty-handed.
AN UNFOCUSED START
“I think it’s an energy thing, you know,” said head coach John Bradford about the team’s somewhat sluggish start. “It felt like in the first half the energy was kind of at a 75% level, which is not going to be good enough against a good team like Richmond.”
Gomiero took advantage of a defensive error to get Richmond on the board in the 29th minute. D.J. Benton had the ball deep in his defensive zone. With no available teammate to alleviate the pressure, Benton was forced to try to dribble out of trouble. After forcing a turnover, Gomiero got on the ball and launched a rocket from 30 yards out that evaded Nicholas Holliday’s reach.
It went from bad to worse for NCFC in the 32nd minute when Simon Fitch kept the ball alive at the endline and sent it across the box to the waiting foot of Gomiero who easily finished the play to double the visitors’ lead.
“We got ourselves into a bad spot where we won the ball then went negative with it and it kind of stiched up our teammates,” Bradford reflected. “And João—who trained with us last summer—great goal from him. Great opportunity and I think we lost focus after that first goal and the next thing you know, we blink and it’s 2-0.”
TWO HALFS, TWO GAMES
Taking a 2-0 lead into halftime, the Kickers and their traveling supporters couldn’t help but think they’d get out of Cary with the same result Forward Madison got last Saturday.
But this is a North Carolina team that doesn’t panic when things aren’t going their way. The message at halftime was to stay the course and stick with the fundamentals that got them to the top of the USL League One table.
Bradford brought on Oalex Anderson and Jaden Servania to start the second half and you could see the energy shift from the opening whistle.
“Oalex just brings a bunch of pace,” noted Garrett McLaughlin. “Off the kick-off he’s already drawing fouls. And same with Jaden; he’s very creative.”
Indeed, Anderson didn’t waste an opportunity when it came his way. In the 62nd minute, he was the recipient of a poor clearing attempt at the top of the 18-yard box. He took the shot off the hop, blazing it past Akira Fitzgerald, giving North Carolina life.
The supporters didn’t have to wait too long for the equalizer. It started with a hard shot from the edge of the box from Rafa Mentzingen that forced Fitzgerald to the ground to make the save. But the rebound came right to Louis Perez who redirected the ball back across the box and into the net and it was Game ON in the 73rd minute.
The Dead Whales made it 3-2 just three minutes later when Perez launched the ball from midfield into the box, looking for either McLaughlin or Anderson. McLaughlin leaned low and redirected the ball with his head bouncing it past Fitzgerald and the whole team raced to the sideline to celebrate his first goal of the season with him.
But NCFC still had another 14 minutes (plus stoppage time) to see out the result, so focus was the key. They continued to frustrate the Kickers, shutting down their attack with Holliday picking up anything that made it past his back line.
“Those type of comeback wins are really memorable and fun,” defender Gustavo Fernandes said following the match. “But I’m really happy the team rallied back in the second half and we won the game.”
Gonna remember this one for a while ✨ pic.twitter.com/YQTjndrCjn— North Carolina FC (@NorthCarolinaFC) May 18, 2023
It was a massive comeback win for North Carolina that strengthened their hold on first place. But while they would celebrate the win Wednesday night, they have to turn right back around and prepare for Sunday’s game down in Charlotte.
Every @NorthCarolinaFC fan tonight. pic.twitter.com/HbMthTuJu7— Follow Greg Sports (@FollowGregPhoto) May 18, 2023
“It’s a rivalry game and it’s a bus ride down to Charlotte,” Bradford said. “And for these guys, obviously, they’re up for every game, but I think even more so for this one. So, I’m gonna get everbody recovered and then start executing our game plan in training on Friday and Saturday before we head down there and hopefully get another good road result.”
First-place @NorthCarolinaFC rely on 15-minute rally to overcome two-goal deficit against @RichmondKickers, top Roos at WakeMed Soccer Park, 3-2! #NCvRIC // https://t.co/GLmGGLDZDX pic.twitter.com/hxbJsgmzxN— USL League One (@USLLeagueOne) May 18, 2023
A MONTH AWAY
It’s going to be a long month before North Carolina returns to the friendly confines of WakeMed Soccer Park. They head down to Charlotte to play the Independence Sunday afternoon. After that they have games in Knoxville and Madison before returning to Cary on June 18 to host Lexington SC. You can get tickets for all home games at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-4-2): N. Holliday; D.J. Benton, G. Fernandes, D. Garcia, N. Flores Blanco; R. Somersall, M. Maldonado©, L. Perez (C. Lue Young 80’), R. Mentzingen (P. Popp 88’); S. Adams, G. McLaughlin (L. Arriaga 77’)
Richmond Kickers: A. Fitzgerald; M. Hornsby (B. Howell 90’), C. Cole, N. A. Aune©, S. Fitch; Z. Moran, J. Sukow (D. Olsen 75’), J. Gomiero (C. O’Dwyer 66’); L. Pavone (O. Gordon 66’), M. Bentley (J. Meacham 75’), K Belmar
North Carolina FC: 3
Richmond Kickers: 2
North Carolina FC: O. Anderson (unassisted) 62’; L. Perez (unassisted) 73’; G. McLaughlin (L. Perez) 76’
Richmond Kickers: J. Gomiero (unassisted) 29’; J. Gomiero (S. Fitch) 32’
North Carolina FC: N. Holliday (YC 83’); D.J. Benton (YC 88’)
Richmond Kickers: S. Fitch (YC 64’); N. Aune (YC 90+4’)
NCFC outshot RIC 8-4 in first half but 2 of RIC shots on target (ahem)