NCFC Is Unable To Find a Winner In a Tense Contest
By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press
North Carolina FC suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat in their season opening match of the 2023 season against South Georgia Tormenta after a first half goal from Mukwelle Akale made the difference on Friday night at WakeMed Soccer Park.
NCFC opened their season in front of 3,429 fans and five new signings made their first appearances for the club. Daniel Navarro, Mikey Maldonado, Rafa Mentzingen, DJ Benton, and Preston Popp received starts and made their debuts for the club.
NCFC enjoyed spells of possession after the match commenced, but were unable to find an opener. In the 34th minute, Tormenta midfielder John Murphy Jr. clipped a ball into space for Mukwelle Akale, who was making a run past the NCFC defense. Akale took a touch to compose himself and coolly finished the ball past NCFC goalkeeper Nick Holliday.
There was some controversy in regards to whether Akale’s run before his finish on goal was offside. NCFC players implored for an offside call, but the goal stood with no sight of a flag given.
NCFC held 56% of possession in the first half, but were unable to find an opener heading into halftime.
NCFC forward Oalex Anderson was able to receive the ball on the half turn and fire a shot towards goal in the 59th minute that forced Tormenta goalkeeper Pablo Jara into a difficult save.
In the 61st minute, NCFC midfielder Jaden Servania struck a low driven effort towards goal that was saved by Pablo Jara. Jara’s save spilled towards the direction of NCFC forward Oalex Anderson, but was quickly cleared by Tormenta’s new signing David Mason. The ball fell to NCFC midfielder Rafa Mentzingen and he quickly shifted the ball to send a cross into the box. The ball was subsequently cleared again by Jake Dengler to force a corner for North Carolina FC.
DJ Benton was able to whip a cross into the box in the 75th minute that flew directly towards NCFC midfielder Luis Arriaga. Arriaga was able to get a headed effort towards goal, but his effort snuck wide of the target.
North Carolina FC was unable to find a goal before the end of the match and left the first match of the season without points.
North Carolina FC midfielder Rafa Mentzingen spoke about how difficult it was to create chances in a match where both teams seemed pretty organized defensively.
“They scored 1-0 early on and then they were fine with it,” Mentzingen said. “They dropped 11 guys behind the ball and we tried to break them and we couldn’t.”
Mentzingen enjoyed the support in his debut and believes supporters will be able to see even more from the team in the near future as the squad continues to build chemistry.
“It was amazing,” Mentzingen said. “The field, even with the rain, the crowd was amazing too. They support us so much. I felt good. I feel like we are going to prove so much once we get chemistry and get to know each other more.”
North Carolina FC midfielder Mikey Maldonado spoke about how the team never gave up and was able to generate more chances in the second half.
“In preseason, we went down a couple of times and the biggest thing we always said was just never give up,” Maldonado said. “That was the biggest thing in the locker room, just never give up. Especially in this league, people score in the first minute and people score in the last minute.”
North Carolina FC head coach John Bradford was encouraged by some of the signs he saw on opening night although the team lost.
“The initial impression is disappointment with the end result,” Bradford said. “To start the season off with something other than three points is obviously not what we wanted. I think there are a lot of encouraging points to the way that we play and the way the guys fought.”
In the first match of the season, Bradford chose to give the captain armband to new signing Daniel Navarro. Bradford gave his thoughts on Navarro’s performance and why he has chosen him as captain.
“I think for us to bring in Navarro was intentional,” Bradford said. “Somebody that has quality, that has experience, and that is respected. I thought he played excellent this evening and captained the side well. I think for him that is something to build on too. I think a lot of these guys are still gelling and getting to know one another.”
North Carolina FC will return to action to face USL League One newcomers Lexington SC on Saturday, March 18th in Lexington, KY at 7PM ET.
Dakwa holds a BS in Journalism from Elon University. He writes about North Carolina professional soccer for L.A. Soccer Press. Follow him at @JDakwa on Twitter.