CARY, N.C. – North Carolina FC gained its first three points of the 2020 campaign and gained maybe a small amount of revenge on Birmingham Legion FC for its postseason elimination a season ago with a 1-0 victory on Saturday night at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Hoping to repeat it victory on the road in the 2019 USL Championship Playoffs, Birmingham almost got a nice slice of good fortune in the sixth minute when a cross by Mikey Lopez from the left drifted toward goal and clipped the top of the crossbar before going out for a goal kick. The hosts, meanwhile, also got a good look on goal seven minutes later when Robbie Kristo grabbed possession and forced a low save from Legion FC goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel with a shot to the left corner.
Birmingham almost took the lead in the 22nd minute when Anderson Asiedu stole possession cleverly in NCFC’s half but couldn’t keep his shot on frame as it sailed high from the right side of the penalty area. North Carolina began to build some pressure as the first half went on, however, and 12 minutes before halftime the game swung in the hosts’ direction as Bolu Akinyode was sent off for bringing down Steven Miller as he broke toward goal, denying a goalscoring opportunity.
North Carolina couldn’t make its man-advantage tell before the break, but six minutes into the second half two former NCFC Academy standouts combined to put the hosts ahead. Two good passes around the top of the penalty area sent the ball wide to D.J. Taylor, and his cut-back cross found Dre Fortune for a precise finish to the bottom-right corner from close to the penalty spot.
Legion FC threatened to level just before the hour-mark when Eli Crognale found space just outside the penalty area and laced a shot that was saved by NCFC goalkeeper Alex Tambakis. North Carolina then carved out a big chance of its own in the 69th minute when Miller slipped Ben Speas through the middle only for Van Oekel to make a good save coming off his line.
Van Oekel was tested again five minutes later as NCFC got out on the counterattack and sent Kristo into space on the right side, but his powerful shot was tipped over the crossbar by Birmingham’s veteran shot-stopper. The hosts also had a goal ruled out for offside when Sam Brotherton scored from close range, a flicked header by Miller on the initial cross leaving the New Zealander behind the Legion FC back line.
NCFC wouldn’t need an insurance goal, however, as despite a late surge by the visitors, Head Coach Dave Sarachan’s side saw out its first victory of the season.
USLChampionship.com Man of the Match
D.J. Taylor, North Carolina FC – Taylor provided the assist on the only goal, had two key passes overall and completed 47 of 54 passes in a strong display down the right side.