North Carolina FC 3 –1 Northern Colorado Hailstorm
CARY, NC—It’s going to be an all-North Carolina USL League One championship game next Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park. The frigid semifinal between Union Omaha and Charlotte Independence was decided on penalty kicks.
Meanwhile, in a much-warmer Cary, NC, North Carolina FC put on a full-team performance on the way to a decisive 3-1 win over Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC.
After earning a first-round bye, the Dead Whales were ready to get on the field against an opponent other than their teammates. They showed plenty of energy and drive on the training pitch the day before the game. Midfielder Mikey Maldonado pointed to the competitiveness of their training keeping them sharp.
“Against each other is probably the best competition,” he noted. “But against Colorado, it’s a different type of opponent.” Glancing out at the field, he added, “But I mean, just to be on this field—the best in the league—I’d be here any day.”
Right from the kickoff, it was apparent that NCFC had carried that sharpness over from the training ground. Within the first five minutes, Raheem Somersall, Louis Pérez, and Rafa Mentzingen led an attack that found ways to break through the Hailstorm’s dense midfield and put goalkeeper Lalo Delgado to work early.
After a great buildup play in the fifth minute that put the Hailstorm back on their heels, Pérez nearly had the first goal of the game when he launched a missile off his left foot from near midfield. Somehow, Delgado managed to parry the shot out for a corner kick.
DAVID GARCIA LOVES PLAYING NORTHERN COLORADO
David Garcia has netted three goals this season. All of them, including last night’s brace, have come against Northern Colorado.
Garcia put North Carolina on the board in the 31st minute after a recycled play from a Mentzingen corner kick. The Northern Colorado defense attempted to clear the ball twice, but NCFC’s tenacity kept the play alive. The ball eventually found its way to Somersall, who fired at the goal, but it was Garcia’s well-placed right foot that deflected the ball past Delgado.
Nortei Nortey nearly had the equalizer for the Hailstorm in the 41st minute, but Brooks Thompson took flight to nudge the ball over the crossbar to keep the visitors off the scoreboard.
While Omaha and Charlotte were headed to penalty kicks, North Carolina FC was taking a 1-0 lead into halftime. When asked after the match if they were keeping tabs on the happenings in Nebraska on the bench, head coach John Bradford laughed. “No,” he responded, “We were out here!”
All of the work North Carolina has put in on set pieces paid off shortly after halftime when Mentzingen targeted Garcia in the middle of the box on a corner kick. The center-back rose above the Hailstorm defense to head the ball past a flat-footed Delgado to double the lead—and bag his first career brace.
NCFC kept up the pressure throughout the second half, outshooting the Hailstorm on the night 19-13 with seven shots on target. A wild sequence in the 60th minute nearly put the game away for North Carolina. It started with Christian Lue Young collecting a pass from Pérez deep in the attacking third and finding Oalex Anderson, Jr. with a cross into the box. Anderson nodded the ball back toward Somersall, who made a terrific play to Garrett McLaughlin in the middle of the box. McLaughlin’s powerful header clanked off the crossbar back to Anderson, who lept over Arthur Rogers to make the header. Delgado dove to swat the ball away.
Pérez put the game on ice in the 87th minute. Lue Young rescued the play in midfield and carried the ball into the final third before laying it off wide to Mentzingen. Rafa drove back inside, spotting Pérez in acres of space at the far corner of the box. He dished the ball to his midfield partner, and Pérez got all of the ball, sending it screaming past Delgado into the bottom corner.
After the game, Mentzingen responded to a reporter’s question about the play, saying that Pérez has been wanting him to pass to him more often. “I think we would do really well when we combine, and I think on the third goal it kind of showed how I took the guy on…amazing finish. Third goal to finish the game.”
Thompson was denied the clean sheet when Marky Hernández snuck in behind the defense and finished a play from Jackson Dietrich to pull one back in stoppage time.
NCFC SHUTS DOWN GOLDEN BOOT WINNER
A committed team defense helped NCFC effectively shut down the 2023 USL League One Golden Boot winner Trevor Amann. The Northern Colorado attacker broke free for a few scoring attempts but wasn’t able to really get anything on target.
A FITTING USL LEAGUE ONE FINALE
Hosting the league final against their arch-rivals from Charlotte is a fitting finale for North Carolina FC’s run in USL League One. It was a difficult journey for NCFC after joining League One in 2021. They struggled to gain a foothold in the league, finishing at the bottom of the table in their first two seasons.
But in 2023, Bradford and his technical staff found the right combination of returning NCFC players, including Nelson Flores Blanco, plus a cohort of proven veteran players from around the world. Their commitment to growth and improvement—not to mention to each other—lifted them toward the top of the league table and a chance to win the league championship next Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better,” Flores Blanco said about the prospect of playing Charlotte. “You know, it’s a rival game, so you know we’re excited. That’s a game that we’re hungry for…so you know it’s a dream come true.
Flores Blanco reflected on his years with NCFC and getting to play in the club’s second-ever league final. “I never thought if you would ask me at 17 years old I was gonna play a final at 24 years old, it’s crazy!”
A HISTORIC COLLABORATION WITH RAYADOS
On Friday, North Carolina FC and Club de Fútbol Monterrey (a.k.a. Rayados) announced a historic, multi-faceted partnership between the two clubs.
The terms of the partnership include the clubs collaborating to develop and strengthen a world-class youth-to-pro path by sharing resources and knowledge.
Key to the development program is an effort to identify top youth players in the U.S. and create a professional pathway for these prospects that includes trial periods in Monterrey’s academy. There will also be opportunities for certain Rayados players to join NCFC’s first team.
With North Carolina FC moving back up to USL Championship in 2024, this partnership offers outstanding opportunities for player development.
NEXT UP FOR NCFC
IT’S CHAMPIONSHIP TIME! North Carolina FC hosts their in-state rivals, the Charlotte Independence, on Sunday, November 5 at 8:30 p.m. Get your tickets for the USL League One Final by visiting northcarolinafc.com/playoffs.
North Carolina FC (5-4-1): B. Thompson; C. Lue Young, G. Fernandes, D. Garcia, N. Flores Blanco (D.J. Benton 88’); L. Pérez (L. Arriaga 88’), M. Maldonado, R. Somersall, R. Mentzingen; O. Anderson (N. Ntalu 82’), G. McLaughlin© (J. Servania 81’)
Northern Colorado Hailstorm (3-5-2): L. Delgado; B. Rendón (B. Evans 64’), A. Rogers, R. Cornwall© (I. Parra 74’); L. Folla (M. Hernández 45’), L. Opara, N. Nortey, D. Robles (J. Deitrich 45’), B. King (S. Lukic 74’); N. Powder, T. Amann
North Carolina FC: 3
Northern Colorado Hailstorm: 1
North Carolina FC: D. Garcia (R. Somersall) 31’; D. Garcia (R. Mentzingen) 49’; L. Pérez (R. Mentzingen) 87’
Northern Colorado Hailstorm: M. Hernández (J. Dietrich) 90+4’
North Carolina FC: N. Flores Blanco (YC) 15’; L. Pérez (YC) 85’
Northern Colorado Hailstorm: L. Folla (YC) 22’; B. Rendón (YC) 56′