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‘Being a pain’ has been a pleasure for undefeated North Carolina FC

"That foundation of just being a pain to play against is what we want to build on,” North Carolina FC midfielder Austin da Luz (right) said of the team's 2-0-0 start.
"That foundation of just being a pain to play against is what we want to build on,” North Carolina FC midfielder Austin da Luz (right) said of the team's 2-0-0 start.

It’s early, but the beginning of the Dave Sarachan era at North Carolina FC has brought on-field results and optimism to a club hoping that a head-coaching change will lead to its second playoff appearance since 2012.

Entering Saturday’s friendly match against Club Necaxa of Liga MX, Mexico’s top division, NCFC sits atop the United Soccer League standings with six points, two games into the season. In the season opener, NCFC soundly defeated two-time defending USL Cup champions Louisville City FC 4-1, and then followed that effort up with a 1-0 victory on the road against Bethlehem Steel.

A year ago, it took until April 28 for NCFC to string together a pair of victories in the final of former head coach Colin Clarke’s eight seasons, one that ended with the team missing out on the postseason by two points.

“I felt this team from the starting point needed to be a team that would compete and be hard to play against, because I think in the past what’s sort of separated them from playoffs has been conceding a lot of goals,” said Sarachan, who most recently served as the U.S. men’s national team’s interim manager for over a year.

If not for an inconsequential 94th-minute goal by Louisville City, NCFC would have two shutouts.

“We know that we have talented players who can get it done in the attacking half, and that part of it will come as we move forward,” midfielder and captain Austin da Luz said. “But that foundation of just being a pain to play against is what we want to build on.”

NCFC’s still trying to gel as a group, with seven returning players in the starting lineup Sarachan has used so far to go along with four newcomers.

“There’s definitely a good chemistry within the group and that will go a really long way, especially as the year goes on,” said forward Bean Speas, a former UNC standout on loan from Indy Eleven.

From NCFC’s perspective, Sarachan was a match because of his experience and his ability to develop young talent, a top priority for the club.

“Our mission is to bring along young players,” said Sarachan, who has backed up his words by starting two young center backs: Alex Comsia, a 23-year-old rookie from UNC, and Sam Brotherton, a 22-year-old New Zealander.

For Sarachan, there wasn’t “one thing” that made NCFC an attractive landing spot, but a combination of factors. He was familiar with the area, appreciated owner Stephen Malik’s “ambition” and was keen on coaching in the USL, which is more established and relevant than it used to be, Sarachan said.

The season is young, but Sarachan’s hands-on approach to coaching has benefitted NCFC.

“He’s not a magician, but you can see the experience that he brings, and the knowledge that he brings is invaluable, especially for a young group like us,” da Luz said.

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