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 North Carolina FC

Week 6 Preview: NCFC vs. Birmingham Legion FC

April 13, 2024 - United Soccer League Championship (USL)
North Carolina FC News Release

CARY, N.C. - North Carolina FC return to WakeMed Soccer Park for Week 6 of the 2024 USL Championship season, hosting Birmingham Legion FC on Sunday, April 14, at 5 p.m. ET.

Sunday is Rivals Night at the park, celebrating all the rivalries throughout the Triangle with $5 beer specials, friendly rivalry competitions throughout the night, and bam-bam sticks giveaways for all fans, while supplies last. Tickets are available here.

The match against Birmingham will kick off a busy seven-day, three-match home stand. North Carolina FC's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup third round fixture against Carolina Core FC is sandwiched between two league contests.

North Carolina FC fell to Detroit City FC, 1-0, on the road last week behind an early own goal. While NCFC doubled the hosts shots, 12-6, Detroit City withstood the push for an equalizer. It was the second time NCFC have fallen by a 1-0 scoreline due to an own goal this season.

Outside of the 3-1 loss at Loudoun United FC, NCFC's defense has been the strength of the team. That defensive effort starts with a dogged press led by midfielder Collin Martin, but the team's trio of center backs, led by captain Paco Craig in the middle, have been stingy and limited the chances opponents have had to test either Jake McGuire or Antonio Carrera in net. NCFC are tied for the third-lowest shots on target conceded this season.

Scouting Birmingham

The Legion have been on the other side of luck's coin early this season, with half of the team's goals coming via opponent's own goals.

The team's Week 5 win over Loudoun United FC was the first time the Legion had found the back of the net via their own player, with Tyler Pasher and Mujeeb Murana both scored after a Loudoun own goal in the 67'.

The Legion started the season in a three-back system, similar on paper to NCFC's set up, but after a handful of tough early-season results the team turned back to a four-back system in the win over Loudoun. Time will tell which formation Head Coach Tommy Soehn opts for in Cary, but Sunday could prove to be a battle won in part by pre-game adjustments.

Despite the Legion's scoring woes, the team has created 34 chances so far this season. Pasher and Preston Tabort Etaka have combined for 19 shots, while Pasher has also been the creative engine with a team-leading seven chances created.

Matt VanOekel has been the man between the sticks for the Legion since 2019 and a mainstay in American professional soccer since 2009, representing teams in the NASL, MLS and USL over the years.

Since 2017, the former Longwood Lancer and Rutgers Scarlet Knight has just under 13,000 minutes of USL Championship experience, 411 saves and 43 clean sheets. VanOekel has the third most saves in the USL Championship through five weeks.

NCFC averages about a dozen shots per game but will need to be clinical in front of one of the league's top shot stoppers to come away with all three points.

Next Up

North Carolina FC will make host Carolina Core FC in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at WakeMed Soccer Park on Wednesday, April 17, at 7 p.m. ET.

Tickets for the game will be $10 and $5 cans of Lioness Lager and The Sitter and the Striker from Bombshell Brewing Company.

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