North Carolina FC Returns Home to Host Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday
Cary, N.C. - North Carolina FC returns home to face Bethlehem Steel FC on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park. Saturday's match, presented by WakeMed, is NCFC's first at home since defeating the Tampa Bay Rowdies 4-2 on Aug. 21.
With seven games remaining in the USL Championship regular season, NCFC (13W-7L-7D, 46 points) holds sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings, firmly in the postseason picture.
Back on its home field, NCFC will hope to bounce back following a 4-0 road loss at Loudoun United last weekend by grabbing its second victory against Bethlehem this season. Back in March, NCFC nabbed a 1-0 road win at Bethlehem on March 16 behind a 51st-minute goal by forward Marios Lomis.
Bethlehem (7W-13L-5D, 26 points), coached by Brendan Burke, is in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and most recently defeated Swope Park Rangers 2-0 last weekend behind goals from Michee Ngalina and Zachary Zandi.
Defensively, Bethlehem has given up 47 goals, the fourth-most in the Eastern Conference. NCFC will hope to take advantage of that with its well-balanced scoring attack, led by midfielder Steven Miller, who has a team-best nine goals and six assists. Six players have four-plus goals for NCFC in 2019, and head coach Dave Sarachan will hope that depth comes in handy with midfielders Nazmi Albadawi (Palestine) and Dre Fortune (Trinidad & Tobago) and forward Yamikani Chester (Malawi) each playing with their respective national teams.
Goalkeeper Alex Tambakis has had a terrific second season with NCFC, recording six clean sheets with a .764 save percentage. Bethlehem has started four different goalkeepers this season. Twenty-three-year-old Todd Morton was between the posts for the team's past four matches, two of which were shutouts. Offensively, Bethlehem is led in scoring by 18-year-old Cameroonian Faris Pemi Moumbagna, who has six goals in 18 appearances.
Last Time Out
North Carolina FC fell 4-0 Saturday night against Loudoun United at Segra Field. Despite matching Loudoun with 14 shots, NCFC couldn't find the back of the net in its final match of August.
A threat up top, NCFC forward Justin Rennicks challenged Loudoun goalkeeper Calle Brown in the 70th minute with a left-footed curler but had his shot saved. Still pushing forward, NCFC nearly got on the board in the 86th minute when forward Yamikani Chester's effort from the right of the 18-yard box narrowly rolled wide left.
Players to Watch
North Carolina FC - #16 Graham Smith
NCFC's home form has been terrific in 2019, thanks in large part to its defensive prowess. In 13 home matches, NCFC has conceded only 11 goals and has five clean sheets. While NCFC's defensive success has been based on a teamwide effort, Smith has played an especially important role. Playing in a holding role, the second-year player is often breaking up opposing attacks and providing cover for NCFC's back line.
Bethlehem Steel FC- #38 Zachary Zandi
The midfielder from West Chester, Pa., has done well for himself in his rookie season, recording two goals and a team-high five assists. A reliable presence in the midfield, Zandi ranks second on Bethlehem in minutes played (1,768) and scored in the team's most recent match. He's someone NCFC will certainly have to keep an eye on Saturday.
NCFC begins its final multiple-game road trip of the regular season at Swope Park Rangers on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 5:00 p.m. ET before traveling to face the Charleston Battery on Sept. 22 for a Southern Derby showdown.
NCFC's next home match comes against Ottawa Fury FC on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7:00 p.m. ET. For tickets and information please visit NorthCarolinaFC.com or call the Coastal Credit Union Box Office at 919-459-8144.
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