NCFC wins on dodgy penalty call, 2-1
Posted July 15
Cary, N.C. — A NASL team from Puerto Rico hasn’t won a match at WakeMed Soccer Park since April 2011, when the league representative was called the Islanders, North Carolina FC manager Colin Clarke was their head coach, and the club from Cary was named the RailHawks. That drought continued Saturday evening, as North Carolina FC squandered another second-half lead, then benefited from a questionable penalty call to end their NASL spring season with a 2-1 win over Puerto Rico FC.
“I thought we deserved the result overall,” said Clarke. “Was it fortunate a little bit at the end? Maybe [the penalty] was on the line or a little bit outside [the penalty area]. But I think we played well enough and created enough chances in the first half to be two or three goals up.”
North Carolina FC jumped out to an early lead in the 17th minute, when Nazmi Albadawi slipped a through ball across the midline to an onside Lance Laing. Laing raced beyond the Rico ramparts, then poked a right footer past PRFC goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg for a 1-0 advantage and Laing’s team-leading sixth goal this regular season.
Despite dominating the run of play against a seemingly languid Puerto Rico side, NCFC found a way to concede an unlikely equalizer in the 83rd minute. Off a broken corner kick, second-half substitute Kyle Culbertson crossed to defender Phanuel Kavita atop the area, who slotted a shot through the throng and past NCFC keeper Brian Sylvestre to knot the score at 1-1.
With North Carolina FC apparently bound for another frustrating result in a spring season filled with such, fortune interceded in the early moments of second-half added time. As Albadawi drove starboard looking to create a scoring chance, Culbertson clutched the NCFC midfielder in an effort to take a professional foul. Contact appeared to begin outside the area and continued into penalty box, where Albadawi finally went down. Referee Nima Sahafi whistled a penalty, sending PRFC manager Marco Velez and his players into spasms of indignation. After Spangenberg earned his own booking for a time-wasting protest, Matt Fondy skimmed his kick from the spot below the keeper for the 2-1 win over a Puerto Rico FC side that still hasn’t won a road match this NASL season.
Both managers acknowledged the dodgy penalty, but both also thought the overall match result hinged on others circumstances.
“For me, [the penalty] was clearly outside the box,” Velez said. “[Culbertson] starting grabbing [Albadawi] outside the box, and by the time he let him go and [the referee] made the call, [Albadawi] dove in the box and they called a PK. It’s out of our hands there, and they scored the PK. But it’s not just that play. It’s the play in general, managing the game, knowing that there’s probably not much time left in the game and we need to go for the tie and park the bus in the last minute instead.”
“It was a penalty; the ref gave it so it was a penalty,” Clarke said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “It looked questionable. The foul looked like it started just outside the box, but it carried on two or three strides later. I thought we should have had a penalty in the first half … so they even themselves out.”
After the match, loud shrieks from Velez could be heard emanating from the Puerto Rico FC locker room. Afterwards, Velez appeared spent from a spring season full of frustration.
“We’re upset because, like I told them, we need to do better in this game seeing out this tie,” Velez said. “I know it wasn’t a game we dominated, but we’ve had games we dominated and lose or tie. So we need to find a way to see those games out and be mentally tougher.”
Despite a star-crossed spring campaign, North Carolina FC (6-3-7, 21 pts.) reaches the midpoint of their NASL regular season within shouting distance of the top-four playoff threshold. Next Saturday, July 22, NCFC hosts an international friendly against Swansea City of the English Premier League. Clarke says he plans to rotate his squad for the spectacle.
“I’d like to get everyone of the field at some point, because it’s a great occasion for the club and players,” Clarke said. “We’ll see where we’re at—some might need a break, some might just need to sit out.”
North Carolina FC kicks off its NASL fall season on Saturday, July 29, when it hosts … you guessed it … Puerto Rico FC. Clarke say he’ll spend the intervening fortnight looking to improve his squad.
“We’re looking, actively looking,” Clarke said solemnly. “Nothing certain, but we’re looking to improve things.”
NCFC: Sylvestre, Black, Tobin, Ibeagha, Miller, Marcelin, da Luz (Moses, 90 +4’), Albadawi, Carranza (Fortune, 83’), Laing (Akinyode, 83’), Fondy
PRFC: Spangenberg, Dias, Soria, S. Moses (Ramirez, 82’), Kavita, Puerto (Culbertson, 57’), Quintilla, Doyle, Gentile, Welshman, S. Rivera (Kafari, 46’)
NCFC: Laing, 17’ (Albadawi); Fondy, 90 + 1’ (PK)
PRFC: Kavita, 83’ (Culbertson)
NCFC: Miller, 71’; Carranza, 83’
PRFC: Dias, 66’; Spangenberg, 90’