For NCFC player, activism has become part of his game
North Carolina FC felt as if it dropped points at home Saturday night, as it settled for a 0-0 tie against expansion side Birmingham Legion FC at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
NCFC outshot the visitors 17-10 and had 11 corner kicks to their two, but couldn’t make any of that count.
With the result, NCFC now has three home ties, and is 4W-2L-4T on the season, good for seventh place in the USL’s Eastern Conference.
“It was one of those nights, you know,” NCFC head coach Dave Sarachan said. “We hit a couple of posts, there were skirmishes where I think we should get on the end of it, and we walk away with one point instead of three. I feel we’ve lost two points.”
NCFC hits the road on Friday to take on New York Red Bulls II, which holds second place in the Eastern Conference.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s match
Tambakis comes up big in goal
Although it was NCFC that controlled the possession battle and had more scoring chances, goalkeeper Alex Tambakis had to be in good form for the home team to come away with something from the match.
It’s not as if Tambakis was bombarded by shots all night long, as Birmingham put only three shots on frame. But that arguably makes a goalkeeper’s job tougher.
“You never know what’s gonna happen,” Tambakis said. “One chance, they can end the game.”
Birmingham almost did that on the final kick of the game, a free kick from the right flank that Tambakis got to before it could sneak in the top left corner of the net. In the 73rd minute, Birmingham’s Brian Wright found himself in on goal and released a hard-hit shot that Tambakis not only managed to get in front of but also hold on to, preventing a rebound.
The shutout was Tambakis’ fourth of the season.
“He was alert on those two plays and made two huge saves for us,” Sarachan said. “I don’t think there are too many better goalkeepers in the league.”
Missed opportunities in front of goal
The old adage that you need to take your chances when you get them rang true for NCFC on Saturday.
Just over midway through the first half, forward Marios Lomis – the team’s leading goalscorer with six in USL play – missed one from close range at the back post, seeing his shot deflect off the left post. Not long after, midfielder Steven Miller surely thought he was to score in the 31st minute when a low-to-the-ground cross rolled across the face of goal to him. But Birmingham goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg did well to recover and made a diving save to deny Miller what would have been his third goal in four league games.
The frustration even reached Tambakis, who was standing on the opposite end of the field.
“I think we’re unlucky,” Tambakis said. “Today we could have scored a couple goals in the first half.”
After halftime, NCFC’s best scoring chance came in the 81st minute courtesy of midfielder Dre Fortune. Fortune, who scored in the team’s win in the Open Cup on Wednesday, attempted a curler from beyond the 18-yard box. Birmingham’s Spangenberg was left scrambling, and was relieved to see Fortune’s shot bounce off the right edge of the crossbar.
Perez impresses on right flank
Two years ago, Manny Perez was the ACC’s freshman of the year while playing for NC State.
Now he’s signed with Scottish giant Celtic FC and playing professional soccer in the community he grew up in as a loanee for NCFC in 2019. Sarachan hasn’t been shy about using Perez, especially in attacking positions. Saturday’s game was Perez’s sixth start in league play, and the 20-year-old impressed.
Perez used his speed and savviness to consistently beat Birmingham left back Kyle Culbertson one-on-one, and two of his crosses to the box set up scoring chances, including Miller’s miss.
Perez was subbed off in the 80th minute, as he cramped up a bit. Sarachan said he might have made the change anyway, considering Perez played a full 90 minutes last Sunday in Ottawa and on Wednesday against Richmond in the Open Cup.
“He put a lot into the first half,” Sarachan said. “He was getting behind his defender pretty much all night – in the first half for sure.”