NCFC Fights for Bid in NASL Playoffs, Comes Back from Deficit to Tie Cosmos

Required disclosure: I did not receive monetary compensation for this post, but I did receive free tickets, drinks, and food. All opinions are my own.

With so many high quality local clubs and college programs producing world-class players, Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill are hotspots for soccer, and now the arena of men's professional soccer in the Triangle is evolving by way of North Carolina Football Club (NCFC).

As a blogger I was invited to an NCFC game on Saturday against the NY Cosmos, and so McCrae and I arrived early to the stadium to enjoy some beer, soda, and food in our suite and watch the excitement ratchet up in anticipation of the game. The atmosphere was festive as the teams warmed up. Kids solicited high fives from players as they finished drills and came in and out of the tunnel before the start of the game. Families and fans finished up their tailgating parties, packed up their pop-up tents, and filed through the gates as the sun sank low behind the stands and gave way to the bright stadium lights and the jumbotron showing smiling fan faces.

This was the first time I had been to a soccer game at WakeMed Soccer Park since the big rebranding from the Carolina Railhawks to NCFC in December, and while the majority of the stadium was sporting navy and red there was the smattering of orange from the longterm fans. The rebranding has been part of a vision of "a new state of soccer" to promote the sport in North Carolina. Besides the attractive new logo, the "new state" includes the consolidation of the CASL and Triangle United leagues to create "the largest youth-to-pro soccer club in the United States" (source), the relocation of the former Western New York Flash women's team as the NC Courage in the NWSL, and a compelling bid for an MLS team in Raleigh. Needless to say, I was eager to see changes in action.

A super rare selfie! Who's excited about soccer?!

A rowdy crowd took up residence behind the home goal beating drums and waving flags - the avid NCFC fans known as the Oak City Supporters - and soon, under a purpling sky, NCFC kicked off against the visiting NY Cosmos.

In the first four minutes NCFC looked strong with a few offensive attacks and crosses that sailed into nothing, making good use of the full width of the field. In the seventh minute NCFC took its first serious shot towards goal and the whole stadium tensed and rumbled until the shot went wide and everyone exhaled and clapped in support.

By halftime the game was still tied at zero, and after the intermission NCFC came out strong with a quick goal in the 46th minute. A a nice give and go from Dre Fortune to Nazmi Albadawi resulted in a fireball that shot past the hands of Cosmos keeper Jimmy Maurer. The crowd erupted with the thunder of spectators jumping to their feet against the metal stands and a roar of applause.

The noise didn't stop as Fortune, Albadawi, Lance Laing and others pulled out fancy footwork that drew cheers from the crowd. The decibels grew in the 54th minute when Laing took a moment to compose himself in front of the goal and let off a shot that Cosmos keeper Maurer's fingers flicked to safety.

The 57th minute gave the Cosmos a weak shot on goal, but NCFC maintained the pressure and the stands responded with energy and excitement, but in the 59th minute Cosmos player Andres Flores came out of nowhere to sink a goal from the top of the box for the tie.

In the 69th minute the crowd erupted again with cheers for an NCFC goal, except the refs called it offsides much to the disdain of the spectators. This was followed by a quick goal for the Cosmos in the 70th minute where Eugene Starikov got up from the turf inside the box, stole the ball from the back of defender Connor Tobin, and sank the ball in the goal. The crowd protested loudly for a foul, but the goal stood and suddenly NCFC had to fight its way out of a 2-1 deficit.

The rest of the game had the home crowd cheering loudly as NCFC battled for another chance, and finally, in the 90th minute that chance came. Brazilian Renan Gorne scored his first goal for NCFC when he slotted the ball into the net to a raucously cheering crowd that could have been heard clear across Cary. Emboldened by the tie goal, NCFC pressured hard in the five minutes of stoppage time, but ultimately had to be satisfied with a draw, while the fans went home elated from an exciting game.

NCFC next battles FC Edmonton on Saturday, Sep. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. Currently ranked fourth in the NASL league, NCFC is battling for a spot in the playoffs, and the upcoming home game could be an important factor in playoff eligibility. Tickets are available at www.ncfctix.com and the full schedule is available at http://www.northcarolinafc.com/schedule.

Check out highlights from the game here:

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