Players from North Carolina FC celebrate the team’s only goal against Florida Soccer Soldiers in the Third Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Credit – Rob Kinnan
The last time North Carolina FC played a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match on Field 2 (aka the Koka Booth Stadium) at WakeMed Soccer Park was 2014, when the team was called the Carolina RailHawks. The game featured a higher caliber, more talented squad coached by Dave Sarachan against a scrappy, yet overmatched underdog that nevertheless managed to pull off an improbable upset win.
Wednesday night in Cary, North Carolina FC, now a second-division pro team in the USL, hosted the amateur side Florida Soccer Soldiers in the Third Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Sarachan was back, now as the manager of North Carolina, which defeated Sarachan’s LA Galaxy in 2014 by a score of 1-0. Five years later, history partly repeated itself, as North Carolina carried an early second half goal by DJ Taylor to another 1-0 victory to advance to the Fourth Round of the Open Cup.
“It was a good win,” Sarachan said. “The Open Cup is what you saw tonight. You have a group of players from Florida who did a good job disrupting us and asking questions of us. We were in second gear in the first half, for whatever reason, and we created nothing. We adjusted some things at halftime, and I thought our second half start was good. We got the early goal, and I thought the soccer was good in the second half.”
For Sarachan, the win adds to his US Open Cup coaching resume, as the two-time champion improved his career advance percentage to .889, and his winning percentage to .833. Both numbers are the best of any manager in the tournament’s Modern Era (1995-present).
“We came with huge expectations about this game because we thought we could win,” said Soccer Soldiers manager Daniel Godoy. “We played a high level against an excellent team with an excellent staff and excellent coach. Of course, we knew that if we made one mistake, they would score. We did our best, but it wasn’t for us.”
A back-and-forth opening half saw the hungrier Soccer Soldiers stymie North Carolina FC’s occasional attacking sorties and clog the midfield. The visitors’ offense consisted mainly of hunting for poaching opportunities. But the feisty Soccer Soldiers kept the scoreline clean entering intermission.
For the second straight Open Cup match, Sarachan was not pleased by his squad’s sluggish first half.
“The message [at halftime] was more urgency and more movement,” said Sarachan, who is leading a team in the US Open Cup for the first time since winning the tournament in 2006 with the Chicago Fire. “Sure it’s hot and all, but the message was let’s get to third and fourth gear. Step up the pressure and step up the tempo, get the game more on our terms.”
“In the first half, our movement was too slow,” Taylor added. “The team came out very lethargic—I don’t know if it was the heat or whatever. We weren’t moving the ball fast enough, and technically they were good and making it difficult for us.”
Graphic by Harrison Huntley | @hhuntley17
A more determined North Carolina FC came out for the second stanza and immediately christened the scoreboard. Fullback D.J. Taylor took a lay off from Steven Miller and drove towards goal, cutting loose a low liner from 19 yards out that slipped past Soccer Soldiers goalkeeper Bryant Gammiero Martins for a 1-0 advantage.
“I just saw space and dribbled through opponents, and they gave me space to cut onto my left foot and I hit it,” Taylor beamed. “It was a good goal.”
From there, the fitter Dead Whales wore down the Florida visitors. Three bookings, including a late red card shown to Florida’s Carlos Daniel Meneses Freire, were the lone notable events as North Carolina FC ground out a win and Florida appeared to finish the match with heavy legs.
“Maybe we pressured too high, but we knew that if we did that we were going to find one opportunity,” Godoy said. “We created a couple of those early in the game, but in the second half [North Carolina] came with better energy.”
North Carolina FC now moves on to the fourth round of the Open Cup, the MLS round, which is familiar territory for the Cary-based side. An MLS side has ousted North Carolina from six of the past seven Open Cups.
“I’m very excited,” Taylor said. “We have a new coach, new team, and I think we’ll have a lot of success this year. I think it’s a great challenge to show what we can do. Last year, we lost to DC United on PKs, so we have to settle the score through the MLS rounds.”
NC: MacLeod, Taylor, Mehl, Guillen, Duvernay, G. Smith, Wapiwo (da Luz, 77’), Perez (Miller, 46’), Fortune, Chester, Kristo (Ewolo, 73’)
FSS: Gammiero Martins, Serrano, Aldunate (Coll 85’), Calderon, Hoyos Cadavid, Suazo Williams, Meneses Freire, Boggio, Ruiz de Somocurcio (Ferro, 56’), Guanipa Morles (Olivares, 55’), Sabella
NC: Taylor, 47’ (Miller)
NC: Mehl, 21’; Wapiwo, 71’
FSS: Sabella, 45’; Olivares, 90’
FSS: Freire, 90’