North Carolina FC Ready for Home Battle with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Cary, N.C. - Riding high after a come-from-behind victory on the road, North Carolina FC returns to Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park to host Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
The matchup pits sixth-place NCFC (11W-5L-7D, 40 points) and fifth-place Pittsburgh (11W-3L-8D, 41 points) against each other in a battle between two teams firmly in the USL Championship playoff picture.
NCFC, which has lost just once at home this season, is coming off a 2-1 victory at Memphis 901 FC, the team's fifth win on the road in 2019. Pittsburgh, winners of five straight, hasn't lost since July 7 and most recently defeated league-leading New York Red Bulls II 2-1 Wednesday night.
Saturday's match is the second of two regular-season matchups between the two teams. NCFC was narrowly beaten 1-0 by the Riverhounds at Highmark Stadium on July 20, with the game's only goal coming on a 27th-minute strike by Robbie Mertz. Since that outing, NCFC has won two of its last three matches, earning victories against Atlanta United 2 and Memphis 901 FC.
Both NCFC and the Riverhounds have found success through similar methods this season: well-balanced offensive attacks and solid defensive play. Only three teams in the Eastern Conference feature four players with five-plus goals, and NCFC and Pittsburgh make up two of them. Veteran midfielder Steven Miller leads NCFC with seven goals and is the team's co-leader in assists with five, while Pittsburgh is paced by Jamaican forward Neco Brett, who has eight goals to his name.
Defensively, NCFC has conceded the fifth-fewest goals (21) out of 36 teams in the league, with goalkeepers Alex Tambakis and Darrin MacLeod combining for seven shutouts. Similarly, Pittsburgh has recorded nine clean sheets, giving up only 1.05 goals per game.
Last Time Out
Nazmi Albadawi's first goal since returning to the club in May came at the perfect time as NCFC earned a 2-1 win at Memphis 901 FC thanks to his 88th-minute wonder strike from beyond the 18-yard-box. With nothing separating the two teams as the game's ending approached, Albadawi took a pass from midfielder Ben Speas and used his left foot to curl a shot into the left corner of the net, leaving Memphis goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell helpless. Albadawi's game-winner put the final touches on an impressive comeback victory for NCFC, one that got started with Donovan Ewolo's fifth goal of the season, a bicycle kick during first-half stoppage time.
After Memphis opened the scoring in the 20th minute through a Brandon Allen goal, the hosts were frustrated by the NCFC defense for the remainder of the night, as goalkeeper Alex Tambakis made four saves in the win.
Players to Watch
North Carolina FC - #7 Donovan Ewolo
A few weeks back, NCFC head coach Dave Sarachan said he could see Ewolo's confidence increasing as the season progressed and the subsequent effect that was having on the field. Look no further than NCFC's win last weekend in Memphis for proof. An audacious bicycle kick by Ewolo put NCFC on even terms with Memphis in the first half, and an impressive run toward the 18-yard-box from the right flank ultimately led to Nazmi Albadawi's game-winning goal in the 88th minute. The Cameroonian forward has five goals and four assists this year and both numbers should steadily increase if he stays in his current form.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC - #9 Neco Brett
Pittsburgh's offense runs through Brett, who leads the team with eight goals, the latest of which proved to be the game-winner in the Riverhounds' 2-1 victory at NYRB II on Wednesday. In 2018, Brett scored a career-high 15 goals for Pittsburgh in his first season with the club. In recent weeks, Brett has replicated that form, scoring in three of his last four matches. Considering Pittsburgh is 7W-0L-1D when Brett finds the back of the net, NCFC will need to key in on the the Jamaican forward.
It's a quick turnaround for NCFC, as the team hosts the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park on Wednesday, Aug. 21, at 7:00 p.m. In the first matchup between the two teams, NCFC won 3-1 at Tampa on June 8, becoming the first team to beat the then league-leading Rowdies. For tickets and information please visit NorthCarolinaFC.com or call the Coastal Credit Union Box Office at 919-459-8144.
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