North Carolina FC Set to Travel to Rival Charleston Battery on Sunday
CARY, N.C. - North Carolina FC is set to travel to the Palmetto State to face longtime rival Charleston Battery on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET at MUSC Health Stadium.
With a victory, sixth-place NCFC (13W-8L-8D, 47 points) can clinch a spot in the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs. A win or draw would also give head coach Dave Sarachan's team the Southern Derby title for the fifth time in club history. On the season, NCFC is 1W-0L-2D against Southern Derby rivals Charleston and Charlotte Independence.
It's been nearly six months since NCFC and Charleston last met, when NCFC earned a 1-1 draw on March 30 at Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park behind a stoppage-time stunner by midfielder Tommy McCabe, who was playing for NCFC on loan from FC Cincinnati at the time.
On Sunday, both teams will be looking to get back in the win column. NCFC was narrowly defeated 1-0 at Swope Park Rangers last weekend, while Charleston suffered a midweek defeat at Atlanta United 2, losing 3-1.
Throughout the season, NCFC has proven itself to be a dangerous side even when playing away from home. Sarachan's group has road victories against the likes of first-place New York Red Bulls II and fourth-place Tampa Bay Rowdies, while also drawing at second-place Indy Eleven.
Against the Battery, NCFC will be looking for a similarly impressive result. Offensively, NCFC is always a threat thanks to its deep collection of attacking options. NCFC's 50 goals are tied for the third-most in the Eastern Conference. Midfielder Steven Miller leads the way with nine goals and six assists, although he's only one of five NCFC players with six-plus goals in 2019.
Defensively, Greek goalkeeper Alex Tambakis will look to stay in good form following a five-save performance at Swope Park. The second-year NCFC man has impressed in 2019, earning USL Championship Fans' Choice Midseason Goalkeeper of the Year honors. On the year, Tambakis has made 75 saves and recorded six clean sheets.
For Charleston, the man up top to pay attention to is 25-year-old forward Zeiko Lewis. The Bermuda international has scored a team-high six goals and his four assists are the second-most on the Battery as well.
Coached by longtime leader Michael Anhaeuser, Charleston is looking for its second straight home win, having defeated the Indy Eleven 1-0 on Sept. 8.
Last Time Out
Despite creating multiple scoring chances and five saves by goalkeeper Alex Tambakis, NCFC fell 1-0 to Swope Park Rangers on Saturday at Children's Mercy Park.
In the 58th minute, Swope Park grabbed the game's only goal as forward Wilson Harris scored from close range. Despite falling behind, NCFC pushed forward, aided by the insertion of substitutes Manny Perez and Justin Rennicks. In the 72nd minute, right back DJ Taylor did well to play a dangerous ball into the box, which midfielder Austin da Luz nearly got on the end of. In the end, NCFC couldn't find an equalizer and Swope Park protected its narrow lead.
Players to Watch
North Carolina FC - #21 Nazmi Albadawi
The NCFC fan favorite is set to return to action this weekend after starring with the Palestine National Team earlier this month, as he provided an assist in its 2-0 win over Uzbekistan in FIFA World Cup qualifying. Albadawi, who has the second-most assists in club history (21), is capable of seeing scoring opportunities when others don't. The Raleigh native is a threat to score himself, however, evidenced by his 21 career goals for NCFC.
Charleston Battery- #25 Kotaro Higashi
The Japanese midfielder is an established fixture in head coach Michael Anhaeuser's setup and has continued to impress in his third season with the team. In 21 appearances this season, Higashi has dished out a team-high four assists, bringing his three-year tally up to 13. If NCFC can make things difficult for Higashi, it could be a good sign for Tambakis and his defense.
NCFC returns home to face the 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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