Photo: Rob Kinnan | North Carolina FC
Dave Sarachan won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup twice as the manager of the Chicago Fire in 2003 and 2006. When he was an assistant coach for the LA Galaxy, his team thrice visited WakeMed Soccer Park from 2012 through 2014, and three times his MLS side was ousted from the Open Cup by the hometown Carolina RailHawks.
Sarachan, who has the highest win percentage of any coach of the Modern Era, is now the manager of North Carolina FC, and in Round 2 he earned his first Open Cup victory in Cary, leading the né Hawks to a 4-1 win over USL League One side Richmond Kickers.
“The game had moments in the first half where we did OK, but there were a lot of moments where we were a step late and lethargic,” Sarachan said. “After we scored our [first] goal, I think there was a little let-up … We got into halftime 1-1, and we could have been down, to be frank. I had some words with the boys at halftime and we made a few adjustments, and I think our second half was much better.”
“The caliber of North Carolina FC and the [USL] Championship isn’t something we’ll face on a regular basis,” said Richmond manager David Bulow. “It’s a huge compliment that some coaches and players say we’re trying to play, and we did quite well for large periods of the game.”
At least seven North Carolina FC regular starters either began on the bench or were not active for Wednesday’s match.
“There’s always a little bit of a question when you haven’t seen enough players in real games that matter for 90 minutes,” Sarachan said. “But sometimes your intuition takes over, and I thought these guys put themselves in a position to get this game tonight.”
North Carolina FC cracked the scoreline first in the 16th minute. A ball into the box found the foot of Donovan Ewolo, who dropped it off to Dre Fortune stationed atop the penalty arc. Fortune’s shot sailed past Kickers keeper (and former RailHawk) Akira Fitzgerald for the early 1-0 advantage.
Richmond equalized in the 34th minute after NCFC left back Caleb Duvernay failed to clear a deflected cross by Kickers forward Joe Gallardo. The ball fell back to Gallardo, who crossed across the face of goal to a waiting Wahab Ackwei, who redirected into net to even the score at 1-1 entering intermission.
North Carolina FC’s first-half play let the home side frustrated, and Sarachan let his team hear about it in the locker room.
“After we scored the goal, I felt like our team believed this was going to be an easy game,” Sarachan said. “They let their feet off the gas a little bit, and I had to remind them that we needed to step up our pressure and compete better on 50-50 balls. They made that response in the second half, but wasn’t good enough for me in the first half.”
“Honestly, we came out terrible,” said NCFC forward Robbie Kristo. “Everything was a step too slow, and we kind of put out head down after we gave up the goal. We let them get a chance after a mistake on our part, not clearing the ball. We had to get to halftime to gather ourselves and get it together. Coach put us together in the locker room, told us to be a step faster and think a little faster.”
The duly motivated Dead Whales reclaimed the lead shortly into the second stanza. Duvernay caught up to a bounding ball heading into the left corner in the 52nd minute, then whirled and whipped a looping cross into the goalmouth, where Kristo climbed over Ackwei and nodded the ball across the goal line to make the score 2-1.
“It was a great service by Caleb to put it in the box,” Kristo said. “I just outmuscled the guy — being 6-foot-5 makes it a little easier to get on the end of things and put it in the corner.”
North Carolina FC extended their advantage beginning in the 61st minute when Kristo drew a penalty from Ackwei.
“Great movement by Duval [Wapiwo] taking it down the middle of the field,” Kristo said. “I cut outside, and [the defender] played me in and was a step too late.”
Kristo stepped to the spot and converted past Fitzgerald to give him a brace and push the scoreline to 3-1. Two minutes after coming into the match, Yamikani Chester got on the end of a Manny Perez cross in the 70th minute, burying his angled shot across the face of Fitzgerald to account for the final 4-1 margin.
The win marked the third time that NCFC had defeated the Richmond Kickers at WakeMed in team history. The biggest of those wins was when the club (then known as the Carolina RailHawks) beat the Kickers in the 2007 Quarterfinals to punch their ticket to the tournament’s final four. They met again in the opening round in 2009 with Carolina winning , 2-1.
Next, NCFC hosts amateur team Florida Soccer Soldiers on May 29 in Round 3. The Soccer Soldiers were a surprise winner over USL Championship side Charlotte Independence on Tuesday.
“This is the beauty of this tournament,” Sarachan gushed. “I am pulling for that team, other than the next time we play them. You pull for teams like that. That just tells you about this tournament, that anybody can enter, play well, and win. We’ll be ready, and obviously they’re a well-coached team. We certainly won’t take them for granted.”
NC: MacLeod, Duvernay, Guillen, Mehl, Perez, Fortune, Wapiwo, McCabe (G. Smith, 77’), Panchot (Taylor, 46’), Ewolo (Chester, 68’), Kristo
RIC: Fitzgerald, Thomsen, Magalhães, Shanosky (Hughes, 63’), Ackwei, Troyer (Lockaby, 62’), Retzlaff (Mwape, 63’), M. Rodriguez, Bolduc, Gallardo, Boateng
NC: Fortune, 16’ (Ewolo); Kristo, 52’ (Duvernay); Kristo, 61’ (PK); Chester, 70’ (M. Perez)
RIC: Ackwei, 34’ (Gallardo)
NC: McCabe, 47’; Fortune, 53’; Wapiwo, 82’
RIC: Ackwei, 61’