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2021 Season Preview: North Carolina FC

By CAMERON KOUBEK -, 04/13/21, 12:15PM EDT


North Carolina FC
North Carolina FC

Club captain Nazmi Albadawi enters his seventh season with NCFC, and his veteran presence will be vital on a squad full of young talent / Photo courtesy North Carolina FC

2021 Outlook

North Carolina FC returned to the USL in 2018 in the Championship, having previously been part of the USL First Division in the 2000s, and has since maintained an impressive record of results on the field while remaining true to its ethos of developing young players. In January, the club announced its move to USL League One ahead of the 2021 season to further bolster its efforts in creating a youth to pro pipeline for the greater Raleigh area.

Club captain and NCFC icon Nazmi Albadawi returns for his seventh season with the team this year. Midfield general Pecka, who played in nearly every match for NCFC in the Championship last season and led the team in assists, is also set to play a major role in the team’s fortunes. The most exciting of the new additions may be Josh Coan, himself an NCFC Academy product who returns to his hometown club after a promising first season as a professional with FC Tucson, for whom he scored four goals in 2020. 

Curacao international Shermaine Martina is another promising new face in the dressing room at WakeMed Soccer Park. Brimming with young and hungry talent, this NCFC squad will be looking to make an impact right away during its first League One campaign.

Notable Arrivals

  • Josh Coan, Forward: Played 2020 season with FC Tucson.

  • Luis Arriaga, Midfielder: Member of the 2019 Real Monarchs team which won the USL Championship title.

  • Shermaine Martina, Midfielder/Defender: Curacao international with nearly 100 appearances in the Dutch second division.

  • Peter Pearson, Midfielder: a former USL League Two standout with the Des Moines Menace, spent the 2020 season with Oakland Roots SC.

  • Malyk Hamilton, Defender/Winger: Canadian youth international and formerly a member of the West Ham United Academy.

Notable Departures

  • Steven Miller, Midfielder: Retired.

  • DJ Taylor, Defender: Signed with Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United.

  • Marios Lomis, Forward: Joined Greenville Triumph SC

Two To Watch

Nazmi Albadawi, Midfielder

If the title of “Mr. North Carolina FC” was once held by Austin DaLuz, it has certainly now been passed to Albadawi. A veteran midfielder with a wealth of leadership experience, the 2021 season will be his seventh with the NCFC senior team. A true hometown talent, Albadawi played for both the NCFC Youth Academy and the NCFC U-23 team in USL League Two during his youth career. He was voted the team’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, as well as MVP in 2016. 2020 saw him become the club’s all-time assists leader and earn the 2020 Team Leadership Award for leading the team in community appearances and captaining the side. As the club embarks on its inaugural campaign in USL League One, Albadawi will be crucial to their success on and off the field.


Josh Coan, Forward

Another NCFC Youth Academy product, Coan spent his rookie professional season with FC Tucson in 2020. He scored four goals in only six starts, including a spectacular strike against Madison which saw him take home the Fans’ Choice Goal of the Year award. As the 23-year-old returns to his hometown club, NCFC Head Coach John Bradford will look to Coan to be a major part of the team’s offense.


John Bradford (1st season)

It may be Bradford’s first season as head coach of the NCFC senior team, but he’s no stranger whatsoever to the organization: he spent the 2019 and 2020 seasons as an assistant coach under former U.S. Men’s National Team boss Dave Sarachan, and serves as the Academy Director for NCFC Youth as well as the technical director of NCFC’s U-23 team in USL League Two. With the club placing greater emphasis on providing opportunities to local young players, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who better understands the pathway from grassroots to pro soccer in the Raleigh area than Bradford.

Key Number

15 In March, North Carolina FC announced the signing of 15 NCFC Academy players to USL Academy contracts. It’s an impressive commitment to developing local talent, but it means the team’s veteran players will be absolutely vital this season. Relying on long-time pros like Nazmi Albadawi, Robbie Kristo and others will help NCFC find the right balance of youth and experience to be successful in League One.

Possible Lineup

4-1-4-1: J. McGuire; M. Hamilton, N. Martinez, M. Mbaye, S. Martina; Pecka; P. Pearson, L. Arriaga, N. Albadawi, J. Coan; R. Kristo

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