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 North Carolina FC

McLaughlin's Late Winner Clinches NCFC a Playoff Bye

October 14, 2023 - United Soccer League One (USL1)
North Carolina FC News Release

CARY, N.C. - North Carolina FC got a late winner from captain Garrett McLaughlin to earn a 2-1 win over One Knoxville in the USL League One 2023 regular season finale Saturday night in front of 5,795 fans at WakeMed Soccer Park. The win clinches the two-seed in the USL League One playoffs and a home semifinal match on Saturday, October 28.

The home side grabbed the lead at the half hour mark on a recycled corner insert from Rafa Mentzingen, which found the head of Gustavo Fernandes to deflect past the keeper. It was the first career goal for the center back and Rafa's fifth assist of the year. NCFC would carry the lead into the break for the 15th time this season, entering the match with 13 wins and a draw when leading at the half.

Knoxville equalized on a counter against the run of play in the 55' when a ping around found Kyle McDowell, who slotted a centering ball for Ross Frank to hammer on first touch into the top corner for an equalizer. Rafa had a couple more brilliant chances, as did Garrett McLaughlin over the next several minutes to try and regain the advantage.

In the waning moments of regulation, another build-up gave the home side the goal they needed. A great cross found Nathan Ntalu, who flicked the ball along to McLaughlin. His initial header was saved, but, with his parents in the stands, a one-time rebound slammed into the top shelf for the winner to ignite the celebration for a semifinal berth.

Quoting NCFC

Head Coach John Bradford

I thought the guys knew they had to come out of here with a result tonight to give us the best chance to win the league. We had a promising start but then had to dig in after conceding and find a way to win, and I thought that showed a lot of character.

The crowd was amazing. The fan support was fantastic. I don't think we get that second goal without the six thousand behind us tonight, to be honest. Hopefully we see them again on the 28th and then (November) fourth after that.

Defender Gustavo Fernandes - Scored his first professional goal tonight

Rafa and I have been working on that play for a while now, whenever I see that second ball, I just have to recycle my run. It was a great ball from Rafa. He did most of the work.

It was very emotional. This whole week I have been saying 'Believe' like from Ted Lasso. I've been harping, 'believe, believe, believe.' Unfortunately we didn't get the help we needed to win the league, but we did what we could do and got the bye and a semifinal game at home.

Forward Garrett McLaughlin - Scored game-winner in the 90'

Overall for the game, I think for the first 15 they had a bit more possession than we would want, but we made a little change and this team just has a huge desire to win. We never stop, we always keep believing. I love this team.

It's win or go home now. We're really happy we can give this club a home playoff game. It's been a while. We don't know who we're playing yet, but we know we'll give it everything we've got.

Next Match: North Carolina FC will host a USL League One semifinal on Saturday, October 28, with a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff at WakeMed Soccer Park. The match will stream live on ESPN+ and tickets are on sale now. The opponent is TBD.

Box Score:

NCFC (4-5-1): Brooks Thompson, Christian Lue Young, Gustavo Fernandes, David Garcia, Nelson Flores Blanco, Louis Perez (Nathan Ntalu - 81'), Luis Arriaga, Raheem Somersall, Rafa Mentzingen, Jaden Servania, Garrett McLaughlin © (Max Flick - 90+2')

Subs Not Used: Tor Saunders, Luke Croll, Daniel Navarro, Kyrome Lumsden, Preston Popp

KNX (3-4-3): Sean Lewis, James Thomas (Derek Waldeck - 62'), Gabriel Claudio, Daniel Fernandez, Kyle McDowell, Callum Johnson (Jimmie Villalobos - 67'), Angelo Kelly ©, Yesin van der Pluijm, Ross Frank (Ilija Ilic - 62'), Giovanni Calixtro, Rodolfo Castro (Matthew Vowinkel - 67')

Subs Not Used: Cornelis Swinkels, Sam Fletcher



KNX: 1


NCFC: G. Fernandes - 30' (Rafa). G. McLaughlin - 89'

KNX: R. Frank - 55' (McDowell)



KNX: J. Thomas - 47'; G. Claudio - 77'; van der Pluijm - 90'



KNX: -

Attendance: 5,795

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