Sports

NCFC sticks it to Hartford, in more ways than one

New North Carolina FC coach Dave Sarachan, who made his debut March 9, 2019, has a long record of MLS success. His last job was caretaker manager of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
New North Carolina FC coach Dave Sarachan, who made his debut March 9, 2019, has a long record of MLS success. His last job was caretaker manager of the U.S. Men’s National Team. ldecock@newsobserver.com

With the Carolina Hurricanes two rounds into the NHL playoffs and an opponent from Hartford in town, North Carolina FC brought out “Brass Bonanza” Saturday night. The official fight song of the Hartford Whalers was played after each NCFC goal (there were many) in the team’s 4-1 win over Hartford Athletic, a USL expansion franchise.

It first blared over the loudspeakers at WakeMed Soccer Park in just the fifth minute, as in-form striker Marios scored his sixth goal in seven games, a simple finish after a long run on goal following a feed from midfielder Steven Miller.

The goal was the first time the Oak City Supporters, NCFC’s supporters group, had something to cheer about on what they dubbed “Dead Whales Hockey Night,” a play on Hartford’s hockey past and the fact that whale bones used to be buried at the site of WakeMed Soccer Park for cleaning before being brought to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

The song was played again when center back Sam Brotherton scored from just a few yards out off a corner kick during first-half stoppage time, a goal that gave NCFC all the comfort room it needed against Hartford, which is off to a brutal start in its first-ever season.

The visitors entered Saturday night’s game 0-7-0 with only three goals. NCFC took advantage of a home game against an inferior opponent and handled its business, improving to 4-1-2, good for second place in the Eastern Conference.

“Disappointed we gave up the goal to be honest, but I thought the energy was good from the start,” NCFC head coach Dave Sarachan said. “I thought some of the things we’ve talked about in the final third that we’ve tried to work on kind of came through tonight.”

Miller made it 3-0 in the 47th minute with a booming effort that was still gaining speed when it hit the crossbar and bounced into the net. Under the previous coaching staff, Miller was used as a utility player, playing on both sides of the field and in both advanced and defensive roles. This year, Sarachan has primarily used Miller in the midfield, and Miller has embraced the continuity of his role – even if he is willing to play anywhere.

“This year it’s been mostly in the attack and in the midfield, and tonight was the first time I played on the left side,” said Miller, who has three assists this year. “But I said from day one, I’m happy to be on the field, helping out any way I can.”

Hartford pulled one back through Alex Dixon’s 58th-minute strike. But NCFC responded, wrapping up the scoring with a goal by second-half sub Robbie Kristo, who was played in by winger Manny Perez’s curling service.

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