North Carolina FC Closes out Regular Season with Thrilling 1-0 Win as Captain Austin Da Luz Is Honored
CARY, N.C. - 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. NCFC will host either the Charleston Battery or Birmingham Legion FC in its opening USL Championship Playoffs match at home on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.
"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."
In what was a wide-open match from start to finish, NCFC recorded 13 shots and showed its intent early on with a handful of good chances for forward Marios Lomis, making his first start since suffering a broken ankle in May. After just missing out on a quality service from da Luz in the 24th minute, Lomis had a shot denied from point-blank range by Saint Louis goalkeeper Tomas Gomez in the 29th minute following a good ball from right back DJ Taylor.
Later on, midfielder Dre Fortune was set up by da Luz and nearly gave NCFC the lead on the final kick of the first half in stoppage time, but Gomez once again stepped up for Saint Louis, as nothing separated the two teams at the halftime break.
In the 49th minute, midfielder Steven Miller was pulled from beyond in the 18-yard box, but no whistle was blown, and Miller got back up before nearly opening the scoring from close range.
On a night where set pieces played a massive role for both teams, NCFC was eventually rewarded for its persistence in the 90th minute. Fortune played in a threatening ball from the left flank, which Kristo tracked down and headed across goal into the back of the net for the match-winner. The goal was Kristo's ninth of the season, moving him into a tie with Miller for the highest total on NCFC.
From that point on, NCFC saw out the result, as Alex Tambakis earned his eighth clean sheet of 2019.
They Said It
"It's really difficult to put into words. Just, the amount of people that have been a part of the story over the years ... to have them here and share this moment with them is something I'll never forget. So, I'm just incredibly grateful to everybody here at the club and in the stands and everybody who made the trip in, and especially my family and my wife. It was amazing." - Austin da Luz on Saturday's match and his postgame ceremony.
Fact to Know
NCFC forward Robbie Kristo has found the back of the net in four consecutive home matches, scoring a total of five goals.
NCFC begins its USL Championship Playoffs journey at home on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 7:00 p.m. While the opponent is yet to be determined, head coach Dave Sarachan's group will host either Birmingham Legion FC or Charleston Battery. For tickets and information please visit www.NorthCarolinaFC.com or call the Coastal Credit Union Box Office at 919-459-8144.
- Midfielder Austin Da Luz is the longest-tenured active NCFC player, having first appeared for the club in 2012 following stints with Major League Soccer's DC United and New York Red Bulls. The Wake Forest University product ranks near the top in the NCFC record book in several categories, including second in minutes played (13,397), third in matches played (182), fourth in assists (18) and fifth in goals (23). Da Luz will retire following the end of the 2019 season.
- Forward Robert Kristo has scored six of his nine goals in league play as a substitute.
- NCFC's youth-to-pro pipeline was on full display Saturday as NCFC Academy products DJ Taylor, Dre Fortune and Manny Perez were named in the starting lineup, as was former NCFC U23 standout Alex Comsia. Caleb Duvernay, who played for both the Academy and NCFC U-23, was named to the bench, as was NCFC U23 product Nazmi Albadawi.
- NCFC ended the regular season with an 11W-1L-5D record at home.
- Forward Marios Lomis made his first start since May 24 at New York Red Bulls II.
- Forwards Yamikani Chester, Robert Kristo and midfielder Nazmi Albadawi appeared as substitutes for NCFC.
- Saint Louis FC was eliminated from playoff contention with its loss.
NCFC (4-1-4-1): Alex Tambakis; Aaron Guillen, Sam Brotherton, Alex Comsia, DJ Taylor; Graham Smith; Steven Miller, Austin da Luz © (Nazmi Albadawi, 87') , Dre Fortune, Manny Perez (Yamikani Chester, 71'); Marios Lomis (Robert Kristo, 63')
Subs not used: Victor Igbekoyi, Ben Speas, Caleb Duvernay, Trace Alphin
STL (4-4-2): Tomas Gomez; Matt Bahner, Sean Reynolds, Phanuel Kavita ©, Bradley Kamdem Fewo; Lewis Hilton, Oscar Umar, Kadeem Dacres (Masta Kacher, 46'), Russell Cicerone; Tyler Blackwood, Caleb Calvert (Albert Dikwa, 69')
Subs not used: Jake Fenlason, Sam Fink, Paris Gee, Collin Fernandez, Nichi Vlastos
NCFC: Robert Kristo 90' (Dre Fortune)
NCFC: Austin da Luz, 60'
STL: Sean Reynolds, 89'
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