North Carolina FC Hosts Saint Louis FC in Regular-Season Finale on Saturday as Club Honors Captain Austin Da Luz
CARY, N.C. - Postseason-bound North Carolina FC will close out the 34-game USL Championship regular season when it hosts Saint Louis FC on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. The club will celebrate Fan Appreciation and Hamilton Night while also honoring captain Austin da Luz, who will retire following the season.
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 (13,310), third in matches played (181), fourth in assists (18) and fifth in goals (23).
Two hundred and twenty-four days removed from its season-opening win against Louisville City FC in March, NCFC (15W-10L-8D, 53 points) enters Saturday's regular-season finale in seventh place in the USL Championship standings. Having already clinched a spot in the postseason back in September, NCFC will begin its USL Championship Playoffs journey at home on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at 7:00 p.m. While the opponent is to be determined, NCFC will host either Birmingham Legion FC, Charleston Battery or Saint Louis.
Saint Louis holds 11th place in the Eastern Conference, as head coach Anthony Pulis' team is on the outside looking in, one point behind 10th place Charleston. Very much a hot-and-cold type of team, Saint Louis has lost three straight matches and is winless in its last five games going back to Sept. 21. However, Saturday's visitors previously won five straight games between Sept. 1-18.
Last time out, Saint Louis nearly earned a scoreless draw against conference-leading Pittsburgh this past weekend but conceded an 88th-minute goal. Likewise, NCFC is hoping to bounce back from a defeat, having lost 2-0 at second-place Nashville last Saturday.
Sarachan's team has scored 56 goals in 2019, tied for the fourth-most in the Eastern Conference. One of the most balanced teams in the USL Championship, NCFC has five different players with six-plus goals, including midfielder Steven Miller, who has a team-high nine goals and also leads with six assists. Not far behind Miller in scoring are forwards Donovan Ewolo and Robert Kristo, who have eight goals apiece. Defensively, NCFC is anchored by goalkeeper Alex Tambakis, who has won USL Championship Save of the Month four times this season.
Offensively, Saint Louis has counted on defender Sam Fink and forward Kyle Greig, as both players are tied for the team lead in goals with seven.
Last Time Out
Despite a good showing by goalkeeper Alex Tambakis and a strong second-half performance, NCFC fell 2-0 on the road at Nashville SC last Saturday. The hosts secured all three points through goals by Ropapa Mensah and Lebo Moloto.
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, NCFC earned the better of the chances as the second half began and nearly equalized in the 49th minute on a powerful strike by midfielder Ben Speas, which Nashville goalkeeper Matt Pickens initially fumbled. Knocking on the door, quality plays from Speas and forward Robert Kristo nearly brought NCFC even in the 59th minute. Having received a precise service from Speas, Kristo did well to take a calm first touch and released a left-footed shot that was goal-bound until Nashville's Forrest Lasso deflected it.
Against the run of play, Nashville made it a 2-0 game in the 70th on a header by Moloto.
Players to Watch
North Carolina FC - #6 Austin da Luz
Since recovering from an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for a good portion of the season from April-July, da Luz has contributed regularly, both as a starter and a substitute for head coach Dave Sarachan. The last time he started a home match, da Luz scored his second goal of the season in a 3-3 draw against Bethlehem Steel last month. On the night he's being honored, da Luz can make a real impact on the pitch.
Saint Louis FC - #22 Kyle Greig
The former Vancouver Whitecap has enjoyed a productive second season in Saint Louis. A vital piece of head coach Anthony Pulis' attack, Greig is tied for the team lead with seven goals and also has a team-best four assists. However, the forward is looking to snap out of a nine-game scoring drought.
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 Saint Louis, 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.
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