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Gameday Report: September 21, Week 28

By JOHN ARLIA - john.arlia@uslsoccer.com, 09/21/18, 9:06PM EDT

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Donovan Ewolo scores four goals to carry North Carolina FC into playoff position


Donovan Ewolo scored four goals in North Carolina FC's 6-1 victory over ATL UTD 2. Photo courtesy Carm / ATL UTD 2

THREE THINGS THAT MATTERED

1. North Carolina FC earned a convincing 6-1 victory over ATL UTD 2 on Friday night at Coolray Field to move past the New York Red Bulls II for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. NCFC is now level on points (41) and games played (29) with New York but holds the total wins tiebreaker for the final playoff spot in the East. After picking up a much-needed three points, North Carolina will spend the weekend scoreboard watching with the hope that some of the sides around it drop points.

2. Without leading scorer Daniel Rios out of the lineup because of a strained hip flexor, some wondered where North Carolina FC would find goals in a critical match for its playoff hopes. Donovan Ewolo replaced the 17-goal man in the starting lineup and made the most of his opportunity by scoring a hat trick in the opening 33 minutes and adding a fourth late in the second half to more than double his tally for the season. Ewolo recorded just the second four-goal game in the USL this year, matching the accomplishment of Ethan Zubak for the LA Galaxy II against Las Vegas Lights FC.

3. Kyle Bekker and Zach Steinberger added first-half goals to Ewolo’s 33-minute hat trick to give North Carolina FC a 5-1 lead at halftime. NCFC’s offensive outburst was the first time this season that a USL side scored five goals in the first half of a game and became just the fifth team in league history to accomplish the feat. After finding the back of the net five times in the opening 45 minutes, North Carolina managed just one goal after the break to match its season-high of six goals in a game, which it also accomplished in a 6-2 home victory over the Charlotte Independence in August.

GAME REPORTS

ATL UTD 2 (1), NORTH CAROLINA FC (6)

GWINNETT, Ga. – Four goals from Donovan Ewolo led North Carolina FC to a 6-1 blowout victory over ATL UTD 2 on Friday night at Coolray Field as the side leapfrogged the New York Red Bulls II into eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Ewolo got things started in the third minute of play when he lost his marker inside the six-yard box and headed home Kyle Bekker’s corner kick to give the visitors an early lead. ATL UTD 2 found a response just six minutes later as Alessandro Castro fired a first-time effort from just outside the penalty area into the top corner to beat Alex Tambakis. The game didn’t stay tied for long as Ewolo found the back of the net again in the 16th minute when he capitalized on an Atlanta turnover by bending the ball around goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt from the middle of the box. Kyle Bekker nearly made it 3-1 in the 27th minute as his left-footed strike from 25 yards out struck Hildebrandt’s post, but the NCFC midfielder found himself on the scoresheet two minutes later as he converted a cross from Austin da Luz, who had made a brilliant overlapping run down the left wing to find space and supply the final ball. Ewolo rounded off his hat trick in the 33rd minute when he produced a little head fake in the box to create a yard of space before firing the ball into the roof of the net to give the visitors a 4-1 lead. Zach Steinberger added a fifth three minutes before halftime as he got in behind the ATL UTD 2 defense and rounded Hildebrandt before tucking the ball into the net from a tight angle. NCFC nearly found a sixth goal four minutes after the break as da Luz produced a powerful header from Bekker’s inch-perfect cross, but Hildebrandt stood tall to keep it out. Atlanta had a chance to get a goal back in the 83rd minute as Rodolfo picked off an errant back pass and tried to chip Tambakis, but his effort sailed just wide of the post. Hildebrandt made an impressive diving save three minutes later to deny Steven Miller, but Ewolo made it 6-1 in the 89th minute with his fourth goal of the night and hit the crossbar in stoppage time as the visitors continued their assault on the Atlanta goal until the final whistle.

USLSoccer.com Man of the Match:

Donovan Ewolo, North Carolina FC – In the absence of leading-scorer Daniel Rios, Ewolo provided the offense for North Carolina FC with a four-goal performance to carry his side to a crucial victory.

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