CARY, N.C. – It took only four minutes for North Carolina FC to etch a milestone moment in its history in front of 6,058 looking on.
Matt Fondy, Carolina’s leading scorer last season, put the ball in the back of the goal in the fourth minute on a feed from Lance Laing.
The marker opened the 2017 North American Soccer League (NASL) season against Miami FC at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday, and was recorded as the first in NCFC history.
Eventually the match ended as a 1-1 draw, but provided numerous attacks that could have broken the game open.
“We started the game well, got the goal, and then I thought we kind of sat back a little bit – too much for my liking,” NCFC head coach Colin Clarke said.
“They’re a good team, and you give them time with the ball, they were able to pass it and get it in some good spots and give us trouble.”
Both teams put 11 shots towards the goal, with Miami managing to get five directly on to North Carolina’s three.
While Miami’s Hunter Freeman attempted to pass the ball forward, he placed it directly towards Laing who quickly created the scoring play that put NCFC ahead 1-0.
Kwadwo Poku tied it up 10 minutes later after Carolina goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre challenged a previous approach, but as the ball was still loose, the midfielder put a shot on goal that deflected off a Carolina defender and stroked the mesh accordingly.
Emotions on the field rose when Miami’s Gabriel Farfan and Carolina captain Nazmi Albadawi had an interchange that resulted in others coming in to separate them.
A yellow to Miami’s Freeman for aggressively tackling Laing continued to increase tensions between the two clubs.
As play approached the 40th minute, a roundhouse elbow from Farfan caught Laing in the head and resulted in play being delayed for a prolonged period of time.
After being taken out on a stretcher, Clarke confirmed postgame the seriousness of the midfielder’s injury as “a gash below his (left) eye and a concussion”.
With no foul called on the play, the coach continued on and quipped tongue-in-cheek: ”That couldn’t be a yellow card, could it?…Should have been a second yellow card and a sending off – very poor decision.”
Having already been booked with a prior yellow card, Farfan did not receive further punishment for his action and play continued on.
As the end of the half drew near, Miami pressed to take the lead but a cross-body stop by Sylvestre on Pinho denied that opportunity.
At the other end, NCFC had its own opportunity to take the lead, but the opportunity went wide.
Both teams headed into the halftime break still tied at a goal apiece.
North Carolina carried its intensity over into the second half and challenged Miami keeper Mario Daniel Vega on separate advances – minutes apart – but came up empty-handed.
A Fondy strike from 25 yards out dipped, but was punched away by a diving Vega in the 55th minute.
Repeated cross attempts by Carolina’s Paul Black eventually earned a corner, but the offensive opportunity yielded an unsuccessful finish.
“We talked about it at halftime what we needed to do,” Clarke said.
“We responded very well I thought second half, and we probably deserved to win the game.”
As time ran into the 70th minute, both sides each presented a heavy back line, with as many as seven back, looking to diffuse and redirect play quickly upfield.
Ten minutes later, North Carolina looked to press to take the lead with more intent, but found it extremely difficult to do so with nine Miami players in the box.
“We played a very good first half,” Miami head coach Alessandro Nesta said.
“The last 30 minutes, both teams was [sic] a little bit tired.”
Playing into extra time, Miami had its opportunities to end the deadlock, but couldn’t when confronted with a strong Carolina defensive stand.
Thus, the end result stood as a draw.
“Overall, a good first game of the season, but we would have loved to have all three points,” Clarke concluded.
“We got the first goal of the season with a great crowd with a great atmosphere, so there were a lot of positives on the night.”
NCFC: Brian Sylvestre; Steven Miller, Connor Tobin, Christian Ibeagha, Paul Black; James Marcelin, Lance Laing (Marcel Kandziora, 42’), Austin da Luz (Billy Schuler, 87’), Nazmi Albadawi ©, Brian Shriver (Jonathon Orlando, 73’); Matt Fondy – Subs not used: Macklin Robinson, Kareem Moses, Alex Molano, Bolu Akinyode
MIA: Mario Daniel Vega; Mason Trafford, Dylan Mares, Jaime Chavez (Jonny Steele, 79’), Kwadwo Poku (Vincenzo Rennella, 71’), Robert Baggio Kcira, Hunter Freeman, Mario Daniel Vega, Richie Ryan, Michael Lahoud ©, Gabriel Farfan, Stefano Pinho – Subs not used: Ryan Herman, Jonathan Borrajo, Ariel Martinez, Calvin Rezende, Lionel Brown
Goals: NCFC: Fondy (Laing, 4’); MIA: Poku (Pinho, 14’)
Cautions: NCFC: Christian Ibeagha, 90+’; MIA: Gabriel Farfan, 18’; Hunter Freeman, 22’, Stefanp Pinho 45+’, Dylan Mares, 87’
Ejections: NCFC: –; MIA: —