North Carolina FC Set for Road Test against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
Cary, N.C. - North Carolina FC closes out a three-match week with a road trip to face Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Saturday night at 7 p.m. ET at Highmark Stadium in a battle featuring two of the best defenses in the USL Championship.
NCFC (9W-3L-7D, 34 points) heads into the game having most recently defeated Loudoun United 3-0 Wednesday night at home, maintaining its spot in fourth place of the Eastern Conference standings. Nineteen matches into the 34-game regular season, NCFC is even on points with third-place Indy Eleven and just three points back of second-place New York Red Bulls II.
Saturday's match will be a tough test for NCFC, as it'll take on the in-form Riverhounds at a tough place to play. Coached by Bob Lilley, Pittsburgh (6W-3L-8D, 26 points) is in eighth place and has taken points in four of its last five matches. The Riverhounds are unbeaten at Highmark Stadium in 2019 (4W-0L-5D).
Like NCFC, Pittsburgh has put together several impressive defensive performances throughout the season. While NCFC enters Saturday's game having conceded the third-fewest goals in 2019 (15), the Riverhounds are not far behind with 18 goals conceded. Aided by an impressive backline as well as his own ability, NCFC goalkeeper Alex Tambakis boasts the second-highest save percentage (80%) in the Eastern Conference and has five of NCFC's seven clean sheets.
Offensively, head coach Dave Sarachan's team has proven game in and game out that anybody can score, as nine players have recorded two-plus goals this season. While the injured Marios Lomis still leads NCFC with six goals, midfielder Steven Miller and forward Yamikani Chester are not far behind with five goals apiece.
Last weekend, Pittsburgh picked up a solid result, earning a 1-1 draw at home against league-leading Tampa Bay thanks to a second-half penalty kick by Kevin Kerr.
Last Time Out
Powered by a sublime set piece involving forward Robert Kristo and a two-goal outburst in as many minutes by forward Yamikani Chester, NCFC picked up its ninth win of the season and remained unbeaten at home (5W-0L-4D) with a 3-0 victory against Loudoun United Wednesday night in Cary.
The match was the first-ever between the two teams, with Loudoun United playing its inaugural season. Chances came early for NCFC, and an enticing opportunity presented itself in the ninth minute when midfielder Steven Miller was fouled a few yards outside of the area. That set up a free kick for Kristo, who confidently curled his shot into the left corner of the net for his third goal in USL Championship play.
With Darrin MacLeod making three saves in what would become his second clean sheet of the season, NCFC took a 1-0 lead into halftime. Out of the break, NCFC head coach Dave Sarachan wisely decided to insert Malawi international Yamikani Chester into the match, and he reciprocated with his fourth and fifth goals of the season, coming in the 72nd and 74th minutes. The first of the two goals came about thanks to Kristo, who spotted Chester making a run on goal and set him up on the left flank. Chester's second of the night was a brilliant individual effort, as the athletic playmaker dispossessed an opponent in the midfield, made a run on goal, shook off a foul and fired on frame from well beyond the 18-yard box.
With the final result all but secured, NCFC saw out the victory, earning its seventh shutout of the league season.
Players to Watch
North Carolina FC - #11 Yamikani Chester
Blessed with elite speed and an unrelenting motor, Yamikani Chester has always been a threat to NCFC opponents because of his athleticism. As the season has progressed, Chester is now finding more and more goals. After becoming the second NCFC player to earn a brace this season on Wednesday, Chester is now tied with Steven Miller for the second-most goals on the team (five). All five of those tallies have come in the last six matches Chester has played in.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC- #11 Kenardo Forbes
A creative playmaker, Kenardo Forbes has built off an impressive debut season with Pittsburgh in 2018 with a good 2019 campaign. The Jamaica international has scored twice but has made his biggest impact by setting up his teammates. The 31-year-old midfielder's four assists are the most on the team, as are his 38 chances created.
NCFC returns to Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park when it hosts Atlanta United 2 on Saturday, July 27, at 7 p.m. ET. The last time the two teams met in Cary, NCFC earned a 4-0 victory on May 25, 2018. For tickets and information please visit NorthCarolinaFC.com or call the Coastal Credit Union Box Office at 919-459-8144.
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