NCFC downed Dogwood Derby rival Charlotte Independence in instant classic at WakeMed Soccer Park
CARY, N.C. - North Carolina FC rallied to a 1-1 draw in extra time before taking a 5-4 victory in a penalty shootout against its Dogwood Derby rival Charlotte Independence to claim the USL League One Final after a hotly-contested clash on Sunday night at WakeMed Soccer Park.
After going down a goal in the ninth minute of extra time, North Carolina scored a late equalizer to force penalty kicks. Thanks to heroics from goalkeeper Brooks Thompson, the home side edged out its in-state rival, claiming NCFC's first USL League One title in its final season before returning to the USL Championship in 2024.
North Carolina largely controlled the opening stages of the match, holding a majority of possession. However, the home side found it difficult to break down Charlotte's compact defensive set-up and was unable to get quality shots off at goal. In the first half, North Carolina was only able to muster two shots on goal despite having 61 percent possession.
By contrast, the Independence looked more dangerous in the attacking third. Thanks to their midfield press, Charlotte found space on the counter and was able to threaten Thompson’s goal.
Their best chance came in the 29th minute off of a corner kick. From the service, Thompson got minimal contact on a punch, which allowed midfielder Gabriel Obertan and midfielder Bachir Ndiaye to lash strikes at goal. But thanks to a couple of heroic blocks by North Carolina defenders, neither shot found the back of the net.
Both teams went into the break scoreless.
In the early minutes of the second half, the game started to open up a bit more to North Carolina's benefit. In the 54th minute, the home side created their best chance of the game when a cross-field ball found the head of Oalex Anderson in the left side of the penalty area. The St. Vincent and the Grenadines international brought the ball down to his strike partner Garrett McLaughlin, who fired on goal, but the shot didn’t trouble All-League First Team goalkeeper Austin Pack, who collected the ball safely.
As the game wore on, though, fewer chances arrived. The half became defined by solid defensive efforts by both teams, as the two backlines only allowed a joint three shots on goal in the second period. Both backlines held strong for the remainder of regular time, forcing the Final into extra time for the first time in league history.
Nine minutes into the first period of extra time, the deadlock was finally broken. The Independence’s Luis Álvarez whipped in a corner kick into the mixer and Thompson decided not to come off his line. As a result, the ball found the leaping head of center back Héctor Acosta. who nodded the ball into the back of the net to give Charlotte the lead. It was Acosta’s first goal of the season.
Charlotte went into the second period of extra time with the lead, but it only lasted six minutes. Off a deep free kick, David Garcia was able to hold up the ball in the box and lay it off to Raheem Somersall. Although the St. Kitts and Nevis international hadn’t found much luck with his four previous shots in the match, his fifth proved impactful as it caromed off the crossbar, off the back of a diving Pack, and into the back of the net to level the score, and send the game to a penalty shootout.
From there, North Carolina's 21-year-old 'keeper rose to the moment. Thompson’s lone penalty save on Charlotte's Joel Johnson to open the second round ended up being the deciding moment of the shootout as his team was perfect from the spot, with Luis Arriaga scoring the decisive goal in the fifth round to seal the title to spark celebrations among his teammates and the home fans.
M - Raheem Somersall (NC) – The Final MVP and St. Kitts and Nevis international forced the equalizing own goal from Charlotte and added nine recoveries, eight duels won, two shots on target and maintained an 87% passing accuracy.
Charlotte Independence – Dane Kelly, scored; Joel Johnson, saved; Héctor Acosta, scored; Luis Álvarez, scored; Nick Spielman, scored
North Carolina FC – Louis Perez, scored; Jaden Servania, scored; Daniel Navarro, scored; Mikey Maldonado, scored; Luis Arriaga, scored