Soccer

Blank swan: NCFC, Swansea City AFC draw

Posted July 22
Updated July 23

— It wasn’t the ten-thousand-plus who sold out WakeMed Soccer Park last year when West Ham United came to Cary. But the euphoria of Wednesday’s Major League Soccer visit and downtown Raleigh stadium dreams carried over to Saturday’s international friendly against Swansea City AFC.

For weeks, ticket sales reportedly lagged for this summer’s English Premier League appearance. But an energized atmosphere this week for Triangle soccer, coupled with favorable meteorology, surged the late gate as 7,268 fans flocked to Sahlen’s Stadium Saturday to see the Swans complete their preseason three-city American swing with a 0-0 draw against North Carolina FC.

“It was a great week all around,” said NCFC manager Colin Clarke. “Wednesday was a very, very busy day, but very rewarding. It’s the result of a lot of hard work from a lot of people, and to see the people turn out and support it was pretty cool.”

The outcomes of match exhibitions are incidental to the spectacle, and that was especially a good thing Saturday.

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A scoreless first half featured moments of flair by several Swans, including half chances from Jordan Ayew, Kyle Naughton, and Martin Olsson. North Carolina FC’s best chance came in the 19th minute, when Matt Fondy slipped a through ball to an onside Dre Fortune in the area, but Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski stoned Fortune’s shot.

The most action in the second stanza took place along the touch line, as both teams made mass substitutions throughout the half, many of them local amateur and youth academy kids getting a rare chance to line up across from EPL competition. North Carolina FC goalkeeper Macklin Robinson thwarted a couple of Swansea shots, including a point-blank header by Leroy Fer in the 55th minute. But the match ended in that most traditionally soccer of ways: a nil-nil draw.

With a kick-off temperature hovering near 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity over 60 percent, Swansea City manager Paul Clement said he didn’t know if playing in such heat was helpful or not.

“As a professional, you have to learn to deal with it,” Clement said. “We have players who play for their countries in different parts of the world, and they have to know how to deal with that, whether it’s preparation and hydration, or if the style of football needs to change slightly to make sure you’re having more of the ball and not turn it into how it was at the end [of Saturday’s match] where it was going from one box to the other box.

"You see we were dead, and that was with the players who just played thirty minutes.”

Saturday's lively crowd was fewer than last year’s friendlies against West Ham and Toluca, as well as the 2013 exhibition against UNAM Pumas.

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Still, the visiting Welsh side held a particular connection with NCFC owner Steve Malik, who was born in Wales, and the party atmosphere of such occasions has little to do with the scoreline. North Carolina FC players, whose U.S. second division schedule rarely intersects with such rarified futbol air, relish the opportunity to ply their trade against the world’s best. Similarly, Triangle supporters enjoy the chance, for one fleeting evening, to feel at one with the cathedrals of English football they see on television Saturday mornings throughout the EPL season.

“I think it’s a great celebration of how much we’ve grown, to bring a Premier League team here two years in a row,” Clarke said. “It’s great for our fans to see and great for our players to play against, just to learn from them and watch them.”

Swansea City used the Triangle as its home and training base this week during their trio of friendlies at Philadelphia, Richmond, and Saturdayday in Cary. Clement was effusive in his praise for the club and region.

“The time here in North Carolina was really, really nice,” Clement said. “We were here for the week, stayed in a lovely hotel, and the facilities here at WakeMed are outstanding … I think North Carolina FC has a really good place to work, and I wish them luck with their future plans for expansion to the MLS level. It would be nice to see that level of football here. And I think the people here are really nice—the people from the Southern states I’ve always found really nice, open, and accommodating.”

Postscript:

North Carolina FC now gets back to the business of their NASL regular season next weekend, when NCFC hosts Puerto Rico FC to kick off their 16-game fall campaign. Last Saturday, Clarke strongly suggested that supporters should expect roster changes over the coming fortnight. Following this evening’s friendly, Clarke was even more definitive:

Are we to expect any roster changes between now and next Saturday?

“Yes,” Clarke responded.

Comings or goings?

“Both.”

“We’re actively looking to improve things,” Clarke continued. “And with that comes the opportunity to bring some players in, but we have a budget and a squad of players, and we may have to move somebody to make that happen.”

BOX SCORE

LINEUPS

NCFC: Sylvestre (M. Robinson, 46’; Reynares, 77’), D. Taylor (Perez, 62’), Moses (Foster, 77’), Tobin (Ibeagha, 46’), Ruhaak, Fortune (Orlando, 46’), Marcelin (Akinyode, 46’), S. Robinson (Laing, 46’; Kandziora, 89’), Albadawi (Da Luz, 46’; Acosta 89’), Carranza (Shipalane, 46’), Fondy (Shriver, 46’)

SWA: Fabianski (Nordfelt, 62’), Olsson (Kingsley, 62’), Mawson (van der Hoorn, 62’), Fernandez, Naughton (Rangel, 62’), Fer (Fulton, 66’), Britton (Mesa, 62’), Carroll (Grimes, 66’), Ayew (Montero, 66’), Routledge (Narsingh, 66’), Abraham (McBurnie, 66’)

GOALS

NCFC: ---
SWA: ---

CAUTIONS

NCFC: ---
SWA: Carroll, 42’

EJECTIONS

NCFC: ---
SWA: ---

ATTENDANCE: 7,268

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