North Carolina FC will be in action Sunday at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park to take on the the New York Cosmos. NCFC (4-3-2, 14 pts) is currently sitting in third place in the North American Soccer League, while the Cosmos (3-1-4, 13 pts) are hot on NCFC’s tail in fourth place.
With third place in league standings on the line, here are the five biggest storylines going into the game.
1. Taking on a hot opponent
NCFC will have its hands full as the Cosmos come into the game with confidence. The Cosmos are unbeaten in the last six games of league play, including a 0-0 draw against the San Francisco Deltas. If that wasn’t enough, the Cosmos are unbeaten in their last eight road games dating back to last season, which includes a 2-0 victory over NCFC.
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NCFC is on a hot streak of its own, as it has won two of its last three NASL matches and added a 4-1 blowout of the Charlotte Independence in the third round of the Open Cup Wednesday.
2. Overcoming history
The Cosmos have caused problems for NCFC, dating back to when the team was still known as the Carolina RailHawks.
Over the last two seasons, the Cosmos have won five of the last six matches in the series against each other.
3. Offensive versatility
During its last time playing a league opponent, NCFC was shutdown offensively in a 2-1 loss to the Jacksonville Armada, but the game seems to be a blip on the radar as opposed to a trend for the team.
NCFC at the moment is the second-highest scoring team in the league with 14 goals on the year, and is tied for the league lead with a 17 percent goal conversion rate. What’s more impressive: the 14 goals have come from 10 different players, giving NCFC offensive versatility in their approach to the Cosmos.
Austin da Luz will look to get chances to set up scoring opportunities Sunday, as he leads the team with 489 passes completed and registered his first two assists on the year against the Independence.
4. Big man in net
While NCFC maybe an offensive swiss army knife for some, the strength of this team is goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre. Sylvestre is playing exceptionally in net this season, leading the league in saves with an astounding 40. The closest behind him in that category is Cosmos goalie Jimmy Mauer, who has 27 on the year.
NCFC will need Sylvestre to play lights out in goal against the Cosmos’ Javi Marquez. Marquez is the primary offensive threat for the Cosmos, leading the team with two goals on 17 shots. He has also created seven scoring chances and one assist on the year.
5. Not looking ahead
NCFC advanced to the fourth round of the Open Cup and will host the Houston Dynamo, the top team in the MLS Western Conference, on June 14.
The anticipation of hosting such a big game could cause focus issues, especially coming off a dominating performance in the third round.
Following NCFC’s second round win against the Carolina Dynamo, the team played Puerto Rico FC and didn’t have any focus issues in its 2-1 victory.
NCFC will get things started at 4 p.m. Sunday, and depending how things play out this weekend in the league, the team could be back in second place behind Miami FC.