NCFC Notches Win in the Latest Fixture of the In-State Rivalry
By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press
Two goals in the second half were enough to seal a 2-0 victory for North Carolina FC over Charlotte Independence in the “Battle for NC” on Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park. A debut goal from Nicholas Molina in his first USL League One appearance and a penalty kick from Garett McLaughlin extended NCFC’s unbeaten run to four matches in league action.
From the opening whistle, there was a level of tension between both teams in a tightly contested rivalry match.
Garrett McLaughlin nearly gave NCFC the lead in the 25th minute after he completed a mazy run into the box and struck a shot that was parried away from goal by Charlotte Independence goalkeeper Dame Jacomen.
The level of physicality rose throughout many moments in the first half and gave a number of difficult calls for the referee to handle. As the first half came to close, both teams totaled 20 fouls and 5 yellow cards were given between the two teams.
NCFC goalkeeper Will Pulisic made a fingertip save in the 55th minute and did well to get a strong hand to parry the ball over the crossbar.
In the 62nd minute, Garrett McLaughlin took a brilliant first touch to skip past a defender and get in the box. McLaughlin pulled the ball back to provide Nicholas Molina with an opportunity for a one touch finish about 8 yards from goal. Molina was able to knock the ball past Jacomen to open his scoring account.
McLaughlin came close to doubling NCFC’s advantage in the 76th minute after going through on goal, but was unable to get a finishing touch to get the ball past Jacomen.
Oalex Anderson was sent through on goal in the 86th minute and Charlotte Independence defender Shalom Dutey ended up dragging down Anderson in an attempt to recover defensively. NCFC was awarded a penalty after it was deemed the foul took place in the box. Dutey was forced to leave the pitch after he received his second yellow card of the night. Charlotte Independence were subsequently left to play the match with ten men. In the 88th minute, McLaughlin stepped up to the spot and hit a low shot towards the middle of the goal past Jacomen to extend NCFC’s lead to two.
NCFC were able to close the match out with a clean sheet and a two goal victory in the latest installment of the rivalry.
NCFC head coach John Bradford was pleased with the performance of debutant Nicholas Molina and his attitude towards dealing with complications of being granted a work visa.
“I think Molina, he is just getting started,” Bradford said. “Credit to him for being able to stick through all the immigration and visa process, all that kind of stuff.”
Bradford spoke about his impressions on Molina’s diverse skill set that combines technical ability and physicality.
“Obviously a 6’4 frame helps to be able to hold possession,” Bradford said. “I think it’s gonna be difficult for opposition defenses to have to deal with Molina, to have to deal with Garrett, to have to deal with Oalex, and all the other guys as well.”
The team enjoyed a raucous post-match celebration with home fans in the supporters section. NCFC captain Jordan Skeleton joined supporters and began waving one of the supporters flags he was given. It was a brilliant moment as the rest of the players continued to celebrate with the rest of the fans. Bradford mentioned the players understand and want to strengthen the bond with their fans.
“I’ve been saying every chance I get that the guys are dying to build relationships and represent the club in the right way,” Bradford said. “We were very specific in terms of how we were building the team and we wanted guys like Jordan. I saw Molina [Nicolas] waving the flag as well. It’s a favor that builds connection. Especially after two years of COVID, community, and all that stuff kind of gets lost.”
The club also hosted a Juneteenth festival in the lead up to the match for fans. Juneteenth celebrates when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19th, 2022 to let slaves know they were free. North Carolina FC players designed club merchandise to commemorate the holiday and wore the shirts they designed for warm ups. Bradford spoke about the importance of celebrating the holiday for the club.
“For our group, we’ve made it an important piece to give them a voice, let them be part of the design process for how they want to recognize Juneteenth,” Bradford said. “I’m so proud of them.”
NCFC’s next match will be against Central Valley Fuego in USL League One action on Saturday, June 25th as they travel to Fresno, CA.
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.