North Carolina FC 2 – 1 Central Valley Fuego FC
CARY, NC— There are two things teams rely heavily on heading into the dog days of summer—and the USL League One season: tenacity and trust. When the games get long and the legs get heavy, those qualities often help your team earn points.
North Carolina FC wanted to turn around a disappointing loss to Northern Colorado last weekend, but they were going to have to overcome adversity right out of the gate.
Two minutes into the matinee match, Central Valley was awarded a penalty kick after Mikey Maldonado caught the leg of Omar Lemus just inside the penalty area. Alexis Cerritos converted the effort to give the visitors the one-goal advantage in the fourth minute.
That was all the fire the Fuego offense was able to provide on the afternoon as North Carolina took hold of the game and kept Central Valley on defense for the better part of the remaining 86 minutes.
Although their efforts didn’t show up on the scoresheet, captain Garrett McLaughlin and Oalex Anderson Jr. were a menace to the Fuego back line. McLaughlin forced a defensive turnover in the 21st minute and got the ball over to Anderson, but goalkeeper Mitchell North denied Anderson’s scoring chance.
ANOTHER SOLID EFFORT FROM SERVANIA
Jaden Servania has been making his mark on the team and in the league this season, and he continued his run of good form against Central Valley.
He had an opportunity to even the score in the 21st minute off of a feed from Rafa Mentzingen, but his shot skidded wide of the frame. He also drew a foul on Cerritos in a dangerous spot just outside the 18-yard box in the 24th minute. He had plenty of power on the free kick, but North was in the right place to collect the ball and thwart the scoring opportunity.
Servania got another chance 15 minutes later, and this time he put the ball where North had no chance at it. He won the free kick in nearly the same spot as the previous one. This time, the ball was put into play with a backheel from Mentzingen. Servania was patient, letting the ball roll into his path to the perfect spot for a clear shot around the wall, and then he blasted the ball into the far corner to make the score 1-1.
FRESH LEGS AND A LATE-GAME STUNNER
Central Valley played their second game on their east coast road trip. After earning a draw Wednesday up in Richmond, they made several subs to try to counteract the road weariness.
It was just as important for John Bradford to manage minutes with a big road swing coming up this week, including an important matchup with second-place Union Omaha on Wednesday.
Luis Arriaga and D.J. Benton entered the game in the 81st minute, giving Servania and Christian Lue Young a well-deserved rest. The late-game substitutes didn’t waste any time making an impact on the game.
Arriaga delivered a corner kick to the near post in a perfect place for Benton to win the aerial battle to head in the game-winner, sending Fuego back to Fresno empty-handed.
“Coaches know I’m pretty decent in the air,” Benton said of his goal, “so mid-way through the season, they started sending me up for corners.
“I like the near-post ball; I was kind of hoping I would get one, and, to be honest, I kind of lost it in the sun a little bit, but I kind of lucked out. I was just hoping that the ref saw that it went in and I was excited.”
Judging by the celebration, it seemed Benton’s teammates and coaches were as excited about his goal as he was. “I’m so happy for him,” Bradford said after the game about Benton’s goal. “Everybody wants to play every minute of every game and it’s a hard task to be able to come in and be focused and contribute and both Luis and D.J.—all of the subs, really—the entire group was impressive tonight.”
Besides being a character win for the Dead Whales, it also gives NCFC some breathing room at the top of the table, putting them four points clear of Union Omaha.
“I thought it showed a lot of character for the guys to be able to concede early but stay the course in terms of our game plan and what we were trying to do to create chances in the first half and get a draw and get level,” Bradford said after the game.
CONCACAF NATIONS LEAGUE CALL-UPS
There was more for Servania to celebrate after the game when it was announced that he was called up to the Puerto Rico National team for the upcoming CONCACAF Nations League. With teammate Nelson Flores Blanco called up for El Salvador, it will mean more roster juggling for Bradford and his technical staff for the upcoming stretch of games.
El Salvador plays Guatemala on Thursday, September 7, and Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday, September 10.
Puerto Rico faces off against the Bahamas on Saturday, September 9; then they take on Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesday, September 12.
NEXT UP FOR NCFC
Union Omaha hosts the Dead Whales on Wednesday, September 6, in a first-place vs. second-place matchup. North Carolina FC then travels to Greenville for a September 9 game against the Triumph. They return home on Saturday, September 16, when they take on South Georgia Tormenta. You can get tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-3-1-2): B. Thompson; C. Lue Young (D.J. Benton 86’), G. Fernandes, D. Garcia, N. Flores Blanco; R. Somersall, M. Maldonado, J. Servania (L. Arriaga 81’), R. Mentzingen (L. Perez 62’); O. Anderson Jr. (M. Flick 90+3’), G. McLaughlin© (N. Ntalu 81’)
Central Valley Fuego FC (4-4-2): M. North; A. Cromwell, F. Dulysse (O. Ramos 72’), J. Chavez, O. Lemus (D.Diaz 90+3’); V. Falck (H. Hanson 86’), J. Carrera ©, M. Dabo, A. Cerritos (C. Dieye 72’); M. Ekk (V. Bijev 45’), Z. Vazquez (A. Ruelas 72’)
North Carolina FC: 2
Central Valley Fuego FC: 1
North Carolina FC: J. Servania (R. Mentzingen) 36’; D.J. Benton (L. Arriaga) 89’
Central Valley Fuego FC: A. Cerritos (penalty kick) 4’
North Carolina FC: none
Central Valley Fuego FC: A. Cerritos (YC) 24’; J. Chavez (YC) 44’; M. Dabo (YC) 90+6’