Two months ago, a gusty nor’easter uncovered the skeletal remains of a humpback whale long buried on the Jersey shore, about 15 miles north of Ocean City, New Jersey. Tuesday evening, the Ocean City Nor’easters drifted down to WakeMed Soccer Park and encountered another variety of Dead Whales, these representing North Carolina FC in the third round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
North Carolina FC scored two goals in the first half, then replicated that in the second stanza on their way to a 4-1 victory over Ocean City to advance to the fourth round of the US Open Cup.
“We weren’t at our best, but I think it was a professional, workmanlike performance, a lot like last week [against Lansdowne Bhoys FC],” said NCFC midfielder Austin da Luz. “We finished some chances, we defended well, and onto the next round.”
While Tuesday’s opponent was an amateur squad, it came with a long Open Cup pedigree for results over professional opponents, most recently a 3-1 win over the Charlotte Independence last week. It was their sixth win over a professional team in club history. North Carolina FC manager Colin Clarke said he knew what to expect from the visitors from Jersey.
“Counterattacks and transition,” Clarke said. “[Ocean City] scored two goals in the first seven minutes against Charlotte in the last round, and that was the game, pretty much. We nearly fell for it a couple of times [tonight], but overall I thought we deserved the game. It’s the third game in seven or eight days [for NCFC], with another one in three days. So, it’s a tough stretch, but we’re moving on to the next round, which the main thing.”
North Carolina FC jumped out to an early lead in the 8th minute. Da Luz delivered a cross that found an onrushing Marios Lomis, who put the outside of his right boot to ball. The sphere squibbed between the legs of Ocean City goalkeeper Alec Smir and across the goal line to give NCFC a 1-0 advantage.
The Nor’easters equalized in the 17th minute, after North Carolina failed to clear a seemingly benign ball in the box that ended up at the feet of Uros Ilic. The OC defender’s shot glanced off NCFC’s Michael Harrington along its path into the net, making the score 1-1.
However, North Carolina FC retook the lead for good in the 26th minute. Midfielder Bernhard Luxbacher sent a cross off the right wing that found da Luz, who poked his head around a Nor’easter defender and nodded the ball into the bottom corner of the goal, making the score 2-1 at intermission.
The home side extended its lead to 3-1 in the 66th minute off a nifty build-up that started when da Luz sent a skimmer into the area that Dre Fortune dummied to Lomis. Lomis one-touched back to Fortune, who took a touch around an OC defender before depositing his left-footed shot past Smir.
Carolina made it a final four in the 84th minute when second-half sub D.J. Taylor turned and fired from distance. His shot pinged off the right shoulder of forward Donovan Ewolo and into the net, giving the Cameroonian import his first NCFC goal, even if he knew nothing about it.
After the match, Clarke credited the “outstanding” play of da Luz, starting his third game in less than a week. Tuesday against the Nor’easters, da Luz scored a goal, assisted another, and set-up a third.
North Carolina FC returns to Open Cup play on June 6, with the site and (likely) Major League Soccer opponent to be determined this Thursday. In the meantime, NCFC resumes USL competition this Friday, May 25 against Atlanta United 2, the reserve side for their MLS parent. It’s the first of four USL home games for NCFC, a pivotal stretch for a club currently mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table.
“It’s an important [game]—it’s the first one of four at home,” Clarke added. “It’s a team that has some young kids coming in and one or two veterans, but a team that’s scoring goals, conceding goals, and is exciting to watch. But we’re at home, and we need to start putting another run together. And that needs to start Friday night.”
“We’re not anywhere close to where we want to be in the league right now,” da Luz, said. “So Friday is a massive game for us, and we have to turn our attention to that pretty quick.”
Courtesy of WRALSportsFan.com