North Carolina FC of the all-pro United Soccer League (USL) were in no mood for generous romanticism in their Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Third Round contest at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. A productive day from Austin Da Luz and Marios Lomis, who each bagged a goal and an assist for the home side in a comprehensive 4-1 win, was enough to see off a spirited challenge from Premier Development (PDL) hopefuls Ocean City Nor’easters, who’ve earned a reputation as giant-killers with six wins over professional teams in recent Open Cup tournaments.
It was no surprise when the hosts took control of possession early in the contest. Ocean City’s young amateurs were happy enough to sit back and make sure they got their defensive shape right, aiming to hit out on the counter-attack only when the opportunity arose. But despite doing all the right things in the early going, the Nor’easters fell behind in the eighth minute when 30-year-old veteran Da Luz controlled brilliantly on the left side and sent an inch-perfect cross through the penalty area. The ball was met in a blare by Marios Lomis, who poked home past Alec Smir from close range with the studs of his left boot.
(Lomis hit home NCFC's first goal before the ten-minute mark - photo Daniel Neal)
The setback didn’t faze the spirited visitors, always among the top teams in the PDL summer league. They drew level ten minutes later after NCFC failed to take full advantage of the momentum gained by their opening goal. Matteo Bernatti applied heavy pressure on the home side’s defense and sent the ball arcing up into the air over the penalty area. Uros Ilic struck toward goal on the volley from 12 yards and the ball bobbled past NCFC goalkeeper Austin Guerrero after taking a deflection off his defender Michael Harrington, who tried to hack the effort away from danger.
With a new lease on life, and balanced at 1-1, Ocean City began to grow into the game. Fredinho was a constant threat moving up through the middle of the field and he put NCFC’s defenders on the back foot on more than one occasion. But after 26 minutes, Da Luz – who had stints in Major League Soccer (MLS) with DC United and 2017 Open Cup runners-up New York Red Bulls – was at the heart of the home side’s second goal when he rose in the area to head home a cross from the right side from Berhard Luxbacher. After regaining the lead at 2-1, North Carolina FC were able to hold on to the break
(Da Luz was the outstanding performer in NCFC's win over OC Nor'easters - photo Daniel Neal)
North Carolina FC came out in control of possession in the second half, with the visitors still unwilling to push many bodies up into attack. Fredinho had the Nor’easters best chance to equalize on the hour mark when he curled a sizzling free-kick from 25 yards just wide of Guerrero’s top corner. After that, with time running out and caution aimed at the wind, the young visitors pushed forward into attack in search of a goal. It left them exposed at the back, though, and Luxbacher only missed out on making it 3-1 for NCFC by taking too much time to control a lofted ball in from Da Luz. But one minute later, the home side did get the insurance goal they needed. And what a goal it was. A low ball in from the left from Da Luz picked out Lomis, who made a first-time flicked pass to the streaking Dre Fortune. He raced into the box and slammed the ball home to make 3-1.
The Nor’easters spent the remaining minutes trying to claw their way back into the game. But they were caught out again by their professional counterparts who knew exactly how and when to exploit the spaces left open by their opponents’ forays forward. The goal from Donovan Ewolo that made it 4-1 had a whiff of good fortune about it. The substitute’s speculative shot from distance took a wicked deflection and bobbled past the despairing Smir. And that’s where the scoring ended, as North Carolina FC - deserved victors on the night - move through to the Fourth Round and Ocean City’s Nor’easters head for home with their heads held high after giving good account of themselves in yet another Open Cup.