Lexington Sporting Club 0 – 1 North Carolina FC
GEORGETOWN, KY— Have a glass of milk handy because this game got SPICY.
North Carolina FC’s final road trip of the 2023 USL League One regular season took them to Toyota Stadium in Georgetown, KY, Saturday night to take on Lexington Sporting Club.
By the time referee Richonne Clark blew the final whistle, he had handed out nine yellow cards and three red cards, nearly all of them in the very testy second half.
The game started off with both teams testing out the other’s defense to find seams and gaps to exploit. Louis Pérez sent Lexington goalkeeper Austin Causey to the ground early with a hard shot, and the home team gave Brooks Thompson his first test of the evening in the 11th minute with a build-up that ended with Tate Robertson rifling a low shot at the net.
Perez, along with Rafa Mentzingen and Raheem Somersall, created some decent scoring opportunities for North Carolina, but their early efforts didn’t find the back of the net.
NCFC took the lead in the 29th minute after Pierre Mané took the ball off of Somersall just inside Lexington’s defensive third. Unfortunately for Mané, his first touch got away from him, and as he tried to recover, Garrett McLaughlin made a sliding pass to Oalex Anderson Jr., who parked just outside the six-yard box. Anderson banged the ball past Causey to give the Dead Whales the only goal they would need.
FEEL THE HEAT
Though there was plenty of physical play in the first half, it didn’t take long for the game to take a testy turn in the second 45 minutes.
After Causey tried to play a long ball out of his box, the ball bounced back toward McLaughlin. The forward momentarily slipped by Owen Green, but Green dragged him back by the collar, sending both players to ground and resulting in the first shoving match of the night.
While McLaughlin walked away clapping, the referee showed Cesar Murillo Jr. a yellow card, then had to track down Owen to show him the yellow card for the initial foul.
Ten minutes later, in the 57th minute, McLaughlin won a challenge for the ball at midfield, only to have Mané slide in with a late tackle, catching the back of McLaughlin’s foot. Players gathered around the referee to make their players’ respective cases, resulting in Mané getting his first yellow card.
After Mikey Maldonado went into the books for a rough challenge in the 61st minute, Mané earned an early trip to the showers after he tackled Pérez American football-style along the sideline.
Lexington head coach Nacho Novo had switched up his tactics early in the second half as his club was trying to find the equalizer. He brought in Khalid Balogun in the 57th minute for more firepower up front. But with Mané’s early exit, the task of getting back in the game became that much harder.
Moments after going down a man, Balogun and Maldonado were challenging for the ball. Just after Maldonado wrested the ball away and sent it back toward Thompson, Balogun steamrolled over the NCFC midfielder and got the fifth yellow card of the half.
Somersall and Ates Diouf later went into the book for a tackle (Somersall) and dissension (Diouf) that probably wouldn’t have been card-worthy if the referee didn’t need to keep order on the pitch. But any hopes of getting through the final 12 minutes (plus stoppage) without any further ugliness were quickly dashed.
In stoppage time, D.J. Benton was dribbling the ball near the sideline after a whistle for a foul on Balogun when Terique Mohammed came over and gave him a heavy shove in the back. The two players squared up, with the fourth official stepping between them to calm things down. Mohammed and Benton shoved each other, with it appearing that both players struck each other in the face.
Benton, who came on as a sub in the 90+1st minute, was sent off in the 90+2nd minute, along with Mohammed. The game ended 10 v 9, and North Carolina FC left Kentucky with all three points.
KEEPIN’ IT CLEAN ON THE ROAD
Saturday’s shutout was the fourth straight clean sheet for North Carolina FC on the road. Thompson was largely unbothered on the evening, with just one shot on target for Lexington. But as NCFC heads toward the playoffs, being able to maintain focus—especially in disruptive games like this one—will be crucial to their success in the post-season.
SPEAKING OF THE PLAYOFFS
So, where does the result leave North Carolina in the table? They’re currently sitting in second place with 60 points, two behind Union Omaha, who plundered South Georgia Tormenta 4-0 on Saturday.
North Carolina can clinch a first-round bye with a win at home next Saturday against One Knoxville SC. To win the regular season championship, they’ll need Forward Madison to either beat or draw at home against Union Omaha.
NEXT UP FOR NCFC
North Carolina FC returns 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 (J. Servania 82’), M. Maldonado, R. Somersall, R. Mentzingen (L. Arriaga 82’); O. Anderson, Jr. (D.J. Benton 90+1’), G. Mclaughlin© (N. Ntalu 83’)
Lexington Sporting Club (5-4-1): A. Causey; K. Jackson, O. Green (K. Balougun 57’), C. Murillo, E. Ceja, T. Robertson; N. Brown, C. Machell, P. Mané, T. Mohammed; A. Diouf
North Carolina FC: 1
Lexington Sporting Club: 0
North Carolina FC: O. Anderson (G. McLaughlin) 29’
Lexington Sporting Club: none
North Carolina FC: N. Flores Blanco (YC) 31’; M. Maldonado (YC) 61’; R. Somersall (YC) 69’; L. Pérez (YC) 78’; D.J. Benton (RC) 90+2’
Lexington Sporting Club: C. Murillo (YC) 48’; O. Green (YC) 48’; P. Mané (YC) 57’; P. Mané (YC/RC) 63’; K. Balogun (YC) 65’; A. Diouf (YC) 73’; N. Brown (YC) 89’; T. Mohammed (RC) 90+2’