FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A brace from Ricky Lopez-Espin and a first career professional goal for 15-year-old Felipe Valencia helped Fort Lauderdale CF outlast North Texas SC to earn the first home win in the Florida club's short history on Wednesday night at Inter Miami CF Stadium.
Fort Lauderdale striker Lopez-Espin continued his sizzling start to the season, finding the net twice in the first half to climb to the top of the League One scoring charts with five goals. Both strikes were set up by Eduardo Sosa.
The breakthrough arrived in the 26th minute, when Sosa capitalized on sloppy passing at the back by North Texas and played the ball to Lopez-Espin, who placed an accurate shot off the inside of the post and into the net.
Eight minutes later, the hosts doubled their advantage through the same duo. A lovely weaving run by Sosa created plenty of space down the left flank, and the Venezuelan expertly squared a low cross into the path of Lopez-Espin for a simple tap-in finish.
The two-goal cushion didn't last long. A ball played over the top of the Fort Lauderdale defense forced goalkeeper Dylan Castanheira to make an awkward challenge on North Texas forward Ronaldo Damus, taking him out just inside the box. Oscar Romero stepped up and dispatched the penalty to halve the deficit before halftime.
But Valencia would restore the advantage on the other side of the break, finding himself in the right place at the right time as a rebounding shot fell to him eight yards from goal. His finish squeezed between the legs of a North Texas defender for the 15-year-old's first goal as a professional. Valencia became the youngest player ever to score a professional USL goal, breaking the record set by current Bayern Munich player Alphonso Davies.
North Texas would give themselves a lifeline in the 75th minute via a well-executed set piece routine. A floated-in ball found Brecc Evans at the back post, who smartly played it across the face of goal where Alisson Dos Santos was waiting to slot it home.
Despite North Texas' propensity for scoring late equalizers (a feat the team accomplished in each of its last two games), Fort Lauderdale were able to see out a 3-2 victory in the closing stages.
The three points lift Fort Lauderdale from near the foot of the table to the edge of the race for the top two. The Floridian side are now in fourth place and just one point behind second place Union Omaha ahead of a trip up to South Carolina to face Greenville Triumph SC at the weekend,
For North Texas SC, it was another shaky defensive performance. The team's backline has allowed 10 goals so far this season, the highest-total in League One. The reigning title-winners will look to get back on track at home this Sunday.
Fort Lauderdale CF: August 22 v. Greenville Triumph SC (A)
North Texas SC: August 23 v. Union Omaha (H)