Venue: WakeMed Soccer Park; Cary, N.C.
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
Weather: Showers, 65°
Series (First Meeting): 2-2-1 (2021)
A defending champion will kick off a League One season for the first time as South Georgia Tormenta FC (12-9-9, 3rd - 2022) head to Cary, N.C. to face a revamped North Carolina FC (8-16-6, 11th - 2022) squad on Friday. Defending League One champions have never lost their opening contests in the season following their victory, but don't be surprised if John Bradford's retooled squad hangs with the champs.
Tormenta FC is still reeling after claiming its first League One title just over four months ago, downing Chattanooga in the 2022 USL League One Final. Leading the way for South Georgia is 2022 USL League One Final MVP and former Tottenham Hotspur FC forward Kazaiah Sterling as he returns to Statesboro with Jake Dengler, Kingsford Adjei, Tobias Otieno and TJ Bush. Newcomers Matheus Cassini from Madison, Preston Kilwien from Charleston and John Murphy Jr. from New York Red Bulls II should be welcome additions to Tormenta FC following the offseason departures of Gabriel Cabral to Miami FC and Adrian Billhardt to Detroit City FC.
Finishing at the bottom of the table in each of its first two seasons in League One, a sizeable jump up the table could be in store for NCFC. Retaining the scoring prowess of Garrett McLaughlin and Oalex Anderson is huge for North Carolina, and Head Coach John Bradford addressed his side's defensive struggles from a season ago by adding 2022 All-League defenders Daniel Navarro from Chattanooga and Mikey Maldonado from Madison. If NCFC can get decent production out of its goalkeeping tandem of Tor Saunders and Nicholas Holliday, the 17-year-old club could be in for a special season.
NC - Garrett McLaughlin: Nearly doubling his career goal total from two previous professional seasons, McLaughlin finished second in the 2022 Golden Boot race with 14 goals for NCFC. The All-League First Team selection led the League in expected goals (12.55) and led all forwards in duels won (151), fouls won (72) and clearances (16).
TRM - Kazaiah Sterling: Tormenta FC’s All-League forward enjoyed a career renaissance in Statesboro with a club-record 13 goals in just 23 regular season appearances and led the league with a combined 22 goals and assists across regular season and postseason play a season ago. Sterling’s 17 combined League One regular season and playoff scores not only are ninth all-time but also position him behind only Ricardo Pepi with a 0.81 goal per 90 minutes mark (min. three goals).
NC: D Luke Croll, D David Garcia, M Pecka, M Louis Perez
TRM: F Arthur Bosua