NCFC Picks Up Three Points Versus USL League One Newcomers
By Jaden Dakwa – LA Soccer Press
North Carolina FC picked up their first points of the 2023 season with a 2-1 win over USL League One newcomers Lexington SC after Rafa Mentzingen’s second-half goal made the difference on Saturday evening at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Lexington SC got off to a flying start after opening the scoring only five minutes into the match. Center back Franky Martinez played a lofted long ball over the top into the path of Tate Robertson. Robertson was able to play a square pass across goal towards Khalid Balogun. Balogun was able to tap the ball home from close range.
Shak Adams nearly equalized for North Carolina FC in the 12th minute after his effort towards the far post was cleared off the line by Kaelon Fox.
In the 14th minute, North Carolina FC won a free kick on the edge of the box. Jaden Servania took the free kick and the ball eventually found the back of the net via deflection that was ruled as an own goal. North Carolina FC was able to equalize the match and notch their first goal of the USL League One season.
Rafa Mentzingen nearly put North Carolina FC only a minute later after Garrett McLaughlin whipped a ball into the box and Mentzingen was able to get a headed effort on goal. Mentzingen’s header slightly missed the mark and went over the bar.
Lexington SC’s Terique Mohamed almost found the back of the net from a corner in the 41st minute. Mohamed’s curling and looping corner hit the crossbar. The ball had floated over an outstretched arm of North Carolina FC goalkeeper Nick Holliday and Mohamed nearly scored an ‘olympico’.
In the 60th minute, North Carolina FC completed a double substitution for Garrett McLaughlin and Shak Adams. New signing Louis Perez came onto the pitch to replace Adams and Oalex Anderson came onto the field for McLaughlin.
Anderson made an instant impact after coming onto the pitch as a substitute. He was able to scamper past a defender in the 68th minute and play Rafa Mentzingen through on goal. Mentzingen had an effort on goal that was blocked by Lexington SC defender Owen Green.
Anderson and Mentzingen linked up again in the 73rd minute when Anderson was on the edge of the box and sent a pass towards Mentzingen. Mentzingen was able to make a little bit of space for himself with a touch to turn away from oncoming Lexington SC defender Owen Green. Mentzingen’s effort from close range rifled off the crossbar and put North Carolina FC in the lead.
Mentzingen’s second half goal and his first goal for the club ended up making the difference for North Carolina FC securing their first win of the season.
Mentzingen spoke about scoring his first goal and the team’s commitment in the first win of the season.
“I think it felt really good,” Mentzingen said. “Not really the goal, but the three points. I think we worked hard for two weeks and I think to get the first one at home is a big thing for the group.”
Mentzingen was named to the USL League One team of the week after North Carolina FC’s loss against Tormenta on March 17th. His match-winning goal against Lexington SC helped him win the USL League One Player of the week after the team’s second match in league play.
Mentzingen believes the team were able to carve out some better chances in the second half after head coach John Bradford had his halftime talk with his squad.
“I think coach John came in at halftime and told us you guys need to wake up and stop being so sloppy,” Mentzingen said.
Head coach John Bradford believes the long layoff between matches may have played a role in the team’s sluggish start, but was encouraged by how the team responded.
“I think the long layoff no matter how much you say, you have to start the game with intensity from the first whistle,” Bradford said. “I think it showed. Obviously, they scored early and our defensive pressure was not good enough in the first half, especially in the first 10 minutes. I thought the guys did a good job of responding. I really challenged them at halftime in terms of their defensive pressure and the front three specifically to try and get up and make it more uncomfortable for Lexington.”
North Carolina FC goalkeeper Nicholas Holliday believes the defense and rest of the team handled the hard fought, physical affair well.
“I thought it was a hard fought game obviously,” Holliday said. “I think we had a lot of chances, but I think I only had a couple of saves to make, maybe two or three. I give a lot of credit to our defense that had a great game and credit to Lexington for being a great team. And, also credit to the fans, it was a great atmosphere.”
North Carolina FC will return to action on Wednesday, April 5th when the club takes on Loudoun United in Leesburg, VA for the U.S Open Cup at 7 PM 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.