North Carolina FC 1 – 1 Union Omaha
CARY, NC— It was a fight from start to finish between first-place North Carolina FC and second-place Union Omaha Friday night at WakeMed Soccer Park.
NCFC looked to continue the momentum they built on their road trip out west, and Omaha wanted to keep their 10-game winning streak alive—and leapfrog over North Carolina to the top of the table.
By the time the full moon rose over Cary, the teams grudgingly shared the points, leaving North Carolina at the top of the table, while the Owls slipped to third after Northern Colorado picked up the win at Greenville.
It was, arguably, the most hard-fought battle NCFC has had this season. The Owls executed a solid game plan that kept North Carolina from breaking through and hitting Oalex Anderson on a scoring chance. Meanwhile, the Dead Whales did a good job of closing down Omaha’s attack and forcing them into mostly low-percentage shots.
”I WAS HYPED”
That’s not to say that there weren’t scoring chances on both sides. North Carolina got out to a strong start. In the sixth minute, Nelson Flores Blanco made a terrific run down the flank before pushing inside and finding Anderson, whose nifty footwork forced the defense to commit a foul along the penalty arc.
Rafa Mentzingen lined up for the free kick and hit a solid, bending strike that ticked off of the wall and headed for the far post. Only a desperation dive from Rashid Nuhu kept the game scoreless in the seventh minute.
Six minutes later, North Carolina earned another free kick, courtesy of a Pedro Dolabella foul on Jaden Servania about 35 yards left of goal. Servania served the ball to the middle of the six-yard box, where it was cleared by a defender but only as far as Raheem Somersall at the top of the six-yard box.
The skipper had some trouble getting the ball out of his feet at first but tried a shot that was blocked. His second slider attempt was also blocked out by the defense but rolled out to Rafa, who had set up camp just outside the six. With plenty of room and time at his disposal, Mentzingen blasted a hard shot that eluded a scrambling Nuhu and put NCFC on the board in the 12th minute.
“It was a great goal,” Rafa described his goal after the game. “Ball in the box, a little chaos, and I was ready, just waiting to pounce, and it came to me, and I hit it, scored and, and I was hyped. Especially in the beginning of the game, I think it gave us a lot of momentum.”
OWLS ON THE HUNT
As Union Omaha grew into the game, they made their own forays into their attacking third of the pitch, including a 26th-minute chance from Luis Gil, who tried to head in a cross from Joe Gallardo, but the attempt went into the outside netting.
Ten minutes later, it was Omaha with the set piece from a dangerous spot when Gallardo attempted a free kick from just outside the box. The shot sailed just over the crossbar, but Brooks Thompson launched into a full stretch to make sure the ball stayed out of his goal.
Omaha pulled level in the 40th minute out of a good team build-out that started with Nuhu. After working the ball down to Dos Santos, he played a give-and-go with Dion Acoff before driving inside the 18-yard box. Dos Santos tapped the ball back to Gil, who managed to make the perfect finish with Somersall about to close in on him.
The Owls nearly went ahead right before halftime when Gil intercepted an errant pass and tried to chip Thompson, but the attempt missed wide.
Both teams pushed for the go-ahead goal throughout the second half, but the game-winner proved elusive. They finished in a 1-1 deadlock.
“I think an intense game and probably what you’d expect for this time of the year in between these two groups for sure,” head coach John Bradford said of the game. “We used a lot of things with our group and obviously we kept fighting through the duration. Some disappointing moments here and there, but overall, I thought the guys competed.”
With Garrett McLaughlin out of the lineup Friday night, Raheem Somersall wore the captain’s armband.
“I think Raheem, since he’s been with the club, he’s always been leading by example, by his words as well,” Bradford said after the game. “So, it’s natural for him to take on the captain armband tonight.
“When Garrett has it, Raheem is still leading; when [Daniel] Navarro had it Raheem was still leading, so I think he’s a common guy who has that [leadership role], but it also is an extra boost to have him wear the band and lead the group,” Bradford explained.
NEXT UP FOR NCFC
North Carolina FC heads to Kentucky to take on Lexington Sporting Club on Saturday, October 7. They return to WakeMed Soccer Park for their final regular season home game on Saturday, October 14 when One Knoxville SC comes to town. Get your tickets at northcarolinafc.com/tickets.
North Carolina FC (4-3-3): B. Thompson; C. Lue Young, G. Fernandes, D. Garcia, N. Flores Blanco; L. Pérez, M. Maldonado, R. Somersall©; J. Servania (L. Arriaga 80’), R. Mentzingen (D.J. Benton 86’), O. Anderson, Jr. (N. Ntalu 80’)
Union Omaha (3-5-2): R. Nuhu, M. Milanese, D. Acoff, A. Souahy; J.P. Scearce©, P. Dolabella, L. Gil (L. Kunga) 66’), J. Brito, S. Brewer, Jr.; J. Gallardo (N. Meza 66’), S. Dos Santos
North Carolina FC: 1
Union Omaha: 1
North Carolina FC: R. Mentzingen (unassisted) 12’;
Union Omaha: L. Gil (S. Dos Santos) 40’
North Carolina FC: D. Garcia (YC) 26’
Union Omaha: N. Meza (YC) 77’