North Carolina FC and the Charleston Battery renew acquaintances on Saturday night in the first Southern Derby clash of the season. | Photo courtesy Rob Kinnan / North Carolina FC
CARY, N.C. – Saturday night might be North Carolina FC Head Coach Dave Sarachan’s first experience with the Southern Derby, but as the Charleston Battery arrive at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park (7 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) for one of the bigger games in the Championship’s Week 4 slate the experienced manager certainly has prior experience of what rivalry games like this mean for a club and its fans.
“For the supporters, obviously, it’s hugely important and translates down to the players as well,” said Sarachan this week. “We always want to do right by ourselves and the league, but also by the supporters and the support we get from the supporters’ group. Any time you can lift a trophy, whether it’s league-wide, or supporters-wide, it means a lot to our club.”
With two wins out of two to start the 2019 Championship season, NCFC is already flying high in the Eastern Conference under the former interim U.S. Men’s National Team manager, providing one of the better storylines in the league over its first month. The side added to that positive feeling last Saturday as it took a 2-1 victory against Liga MX’s Club Necaxa in an international exhibition during its early bye week.
A major feature of the win against Necaxa was the North Carolina’s young standouts coming to the fore. Former NCFC Academy products Manny Perez and Caleb Duvernay were among those to make a positive impact on the scoresheet, while other youngsters from within the clubs ranks also got the chance to see action against the top-flight opponent. Veteran NCFC midfielder Austin da Luz expects experiences like that are going to be a big plus for the side as it moves further into this season.
“Those games, I think are huge for young guys and for their confidence,” said da Luz. “Just for them to be able to see that they’re not far from that kind of level. For them, to not only play well, but to get a win against a team of that kind of caliber is only going to serve us well going forward.”
Former NCFC Academy standout Manny Perez was one of the young players that shone in North Carolina's exhibition victory against Liga MX's Club Necaxa last Saturday. | Photo courtesy Rob Kinnan / North Carolina FC
For his part, Da Luz brings plenty of experience of rivalry matches, and with North Carolina having claimed the Southern Derby a season ago he’s hoping the side can get off to a good start in its defense. That won’t be easy against the Battery, who are also undefeated through their first two games of the regular season and sit two points back of NCFC in the early going.
“Obviously, we know Charleston very well, we know what they’re about,” said da Luz. “Always a very difficult team to play against, no matter what. We have to keep progressing and keep improving and build on our first couple of results.”
The Battery, in fact, held the edge over NCFC in their head-to-head meetings a season ago as they twice earned a point on the road before winning their lone home meeting of the season between the clubs. That will serve as a challenge to the 100 percent record NCFC has posted so far.
“They have a rich history,” said Sarachan. “I’m very familiar with their history and how they compete from year to year, so I’m expecting a difficult test for us. We’re at home, and we hope to be aggressive at home, but we understand the opponent. It’ll be an important game for us, a difficult test.”
While it may be early in the season, for NCFC’s players there’s no time like the present to put out another marker that says they’re going to be a team to beat this year, both in the league and in the rivalry series.
“I think it means a little extra for us and the fans, knowing that this one counts for the Southern Derby,” said NCFC defender Graham Smith. “That's always something, a trophy during the season that you want to win and take pride in.”