Debutant NC Cinderellas Appalachian FC Out But Not DownJulliana Salvatierra – on special assignment for usopencup.com – captured the vibe as underdog new boys Appalachian FC went out swinging on the road against the pros of Charlotte Independence.
This year saw some young teams get the chance to compete in American soccer’s oldest tournament and official national championship. One of those was Appalachian FC, barely three-years-old, from the wild woods of the High Country in and around Boone, North Carolina.
And as so often happens in our venerable old competition, the new boys rose to the occasion. The all-amateur App FC knocked out established campaigners NC Fusion U23, who last year pulled off their own Cupset by beating pro side Charlotte Independence, in the First Round in late March.
And it was that very team, the Independence from USL’s all-pro League One, that debutants Appalachian FC met in this year’s Open Cup Second Round on April 5. Hardly intimidated by the occasion, the Sasquatch-themed App FC – founded in late 2020 following the disintegration of the Appalachian State University soccer program – gave as good as they got against the Independence, who took over for the Charlotte Eagles in League One back in 2014.
With a side patched-together, and some of the players unfamiliar with each other compared to the Independence, Appalachian FC – who play in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) – stood their ground in what was a celebration of North Carolina’s lower-league soccer.
Appalachian conceded twice, one goal a contentious penalty in the 24th minute, but they were very much in the game. And they pressed right on through to the dying moments.
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A small town like Boone, North Carolina hasn’t, historically, placed much emphasis on soccer. American football moves the needle in those parts. But the Appalachian FC club was founded and helped along by local interest and investment – and App State head coach Jason O’Keefe. After he retired, Dale Parker took over as the head coach – and the project just kept on rolling.
Now, just three years later and with local interest in soccer growing more than ever, the entire country was able to see what can be done with a little elbow grease, passion and buy-in from the community.
By any measure, even considering the Second-Round Open Cup defeat on the road in Charlotte, App FC is a success story.
Clay Dimick scored the second goal in the 65th minute to seal the win for the Independence. With over 25 fouls and eight yellow cards handed out, the teams kept all in attendance – fans from both clubs – on their toes for the entirety of the game.Half of the yellow cards were distributed after Dimick’s goal, allowing for a very intense finale and seven minutes of high-octane second-half stoppage time.
It’s plain to see the growth of the soccer community across the state of North Carolina. With the addition of the new MLS team, Charlotte FC – who will join the Open Cup party in the next (Third) Round against notorious giant-killers South Georgia Tormenta of USL League One – the area has established itself as a major hub of the game in this country.
And now that App FC are gone from the Open cup, Charlotte Independence will switch places and become the underdog when they take on 2008 Open Cup runners-up Charleston Battery (of the second-tier USL Championship) in South Carolina in the Third Round on April 25.
Julliana Salvatierra is a contributor to usopencup.com – a Charlotte local and resident of Boone, NC.