North Carolina FC Begins Postseason Play at Home on Wednesday against Birmingham Legion FC
Cary, N.C. - Back in the postseason for the second time in three years, No. 7 seed North Carolina FC opens up USL Championship Playoffs play against No. 10 seed Birmingham Legion FC on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Head coach Dave Sarachan's team most recently closed out the regular season with a 1-0 win over Saint Louis FC last weekend to finish with a 16W-10L-8D record (56 points), good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. NCFC's win over Saint Louis also clinched a spot in the Championship Playoffs for Birmingham, which is playing in the postseason in its inaugural season.
With a win on Wednesday, NCFC would move on to the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, where it would face No. 2 seed Nashville SC on the road on Saturday.
NCFC closed out the regular season by winning three of its final four matches, with each victory coming at home. During the regular season, NCFC went 11W-1L-5D at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park, as the team collected the third-most home points (38) in the USL Championship.
Birmingham is coming off a narrow 1-0 loss at home to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Sunday, as Pittsburgh snatched a game-winning goal in the 90th minute. The loss confirmed Birmingham as NCFC's opponent on Wednesday, as the two teams will meet for a third time in 2019. In May, NCFC settled for a scoreless home draw against Birmingham despite recording 17 shots. In the reverse fixture at Birmingham in July, NCFC was defeated 1-0.
NCFC finished the regular season with the fifth-highest goal differential in the Eastern Conference (+20) thanks to a solid defense led by goalkeeper Alex Tambakis and a well-balanced attack featuring numerous scoring threats. Tambakis, who earned team MVP honors, has a .752 save percentage, the third-highest among USL Championship goalkeepers to have faced 100-plus shots on target.
Offensively, five NCFC players have six-plus goals, including midfielder Steven Miller and forward Robbie Kristo, who both have nine tallies apiece. Miller also leads the team with six assists, but it's Kristo who has been the in-form goal-scorer as of late. The 6'4" target man has scored five goals in NCFC's last four home matches, and all nine of his goals have come at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Like NCFC, Birmingham has two joint leading scorers, as midfielder JJ Williams and forward Prosper Kasim both have seven goals. Birmingham goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel has 11 clean sheets on the season.
Last Time Out
On a night where club captain Austin da Luz was honored for his outstanding 10-year professional career, postseason-bound North Carolina FC closed out the regular season in grand fashion with a 1-0 win over Saint Louis FC Saturday evening at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. Forward Robert Kristo's 90th-minute goal gave head coach Dave Sarachan's team all three points, as NCFC finished the 34-game regular season with a 16W-10L-8D (56 points) record and seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
"Clean sheet, no injuries, good performance, and obviously a special night for a guy like Austin da Luz," NCFC head coach Dave Sarachan said. "To win the game was great for the group."
Players to Watch
North Carolina FC - #8 Dre Fortune
The 23-year-old homegrown product is enjoying his best season with NCFC yet and could make a big impact on Wednesday. Fortune, a Raleigh native and NCFC Academy product, has seven goals and a pair of assists in his third year with the team, and assisted on forward Robert Kristo's game-winning goal in the 90th minute last weekend against Saint Louis FC.
Birmingham Legion FC- #7 Brian Wright
The 24-year-old Canadian forward has made the most of his loan spell at Birmingham this season, impressing with six goals and four assists. On loan from the New England Revolution, Wright has Major League Soccer experience, and he'll certainly capture the attention of NCFC's defense on Wednesday. Wright scored the game-winning goal in Birmingham's 1-0 win against NCFC on July 13.
If NCFC is victorious against Birmingham on Wednesday, Sarachan's team will travel to face No. 2 seed Nashville SC at First Tennessee Park on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. NCFC split the regular-season series with Nashville, winning 1-0 at home on June 29 and falling 2-0 on the road on Oct. 12.
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