The Swope Park Rangers (1-8-5, 8 points) took a 2-0 road loss to North Carolina FC (7-2-5, 26 points) on Saturday afternoon at Sahlen’s Stadium. The inaugural USL Championship meeting between the clubs saw Yamikani Chester and Andre Fortune score within the first 13 minutes as North Carolina FC provisionally jumped to third place in the Eastern Conference standings and kept SPR at the foot of the table.
SPR traveled an experienced squad to Cary, North Carolina, as head coach Paulo Nagamura handed starts to four Sporting Kansas City loanees—namely goalkeeper Eric Dick, center back and captain Graham Smith, and midfielders Gianluca Busio and Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal. Smith and Busio had spent most of the past month competing at the MLS level, while Hernandez and defender Camden Riley had earned short-term call-ups to Sporting for their U.S. Open Cup match at Minnesota United FC on Wednesday.
A costly giveaway in SPR’s defensive half afforded the hosts their opportunity to land the first punch in the sixth minute. Robert Kristo dashed onto a misplayed ball and slipped Chester through on goal, giving the winger a clean look to finish past goalkeeper Eric Dick for his second tally of the 2019 campaign.
Fortune doubled North Carolina’s lead seven minutes later, bagging his third goal in two games by intercepting a midfield pass, accelerating into the attacking third and side-footing a shot into the right corner near the top of the box.
The visitors would absorb the early hammer blow and conjure a threat of their own, with two talented Sporting KC Academy products nearly combining to cut the Rangers’ deficit in half on the half-hour mark. Hernandez shimmied and spun near the end line to create space and clip a cross into the middle for Busio, whose leaping header bounced inches wide of North Carolina goalkeeper Darrin MacLeod’s right-hand post.
Kristo had set up North Carolina’s first goal and almost found the back of the net himself just before intermission, but his 22-yard turf-trimmer blazed marginally off target. The forward broke through on the breakaway once more in the 52nd minute, but Dick produced a superb reflex save to touch the ball onto the crossbar. Shortly thereafter, SPR’s glovevman did well to stymy Chester from a tight angle.
Dick’s brilliance between the post continued to impress a healthy crowd at Sahlen’s Stadium, as he made a pair of masterful saves on the 80-minute mark. He first thwarted substitute Donovan Ewolo on the breakaway—prompting Smith into an acrobatic clearance off the goal line—then dove at full extension to push aside Fortune’s curler.
Smith was unfortunate not to put SPR on the scoreboard in the dying embers, nodding a foot wide off a set piece delivery from Alexsander. Not long later, Rangers substitute Wilson Harris got his head to X’s corner but was denied by the woodwork.
Nagamura’s side will conclude a two-game road swing next Saturday, traveling to face the Charleston Battery at MUSC Health Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina. The Eastern Conference clash will kick off at 6:30 p.m. CT and stream live on ESPN+.
2019 USL Championship
Game 14 of 34
Sahlen's Stadium | Cary, North Carolina
Weather: 83 degrees and sunny
|Swope Park Rangers (1-8-5, 8 points)||0||0||0|
|North Carolina FC (7-2-5, 26 points)||2||0||2|
Swope Park Rangers: Eric Dick; Mark Segbers, Graham Smith (C), Camden Riley, Alexsander; Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal (Tyler Freeman 71'), Felipe Hernandez, Gianluca Busio; Ayyoub Allach, Ethan Vanacore-Decker (Wilson Harris 78'), Killian Colombie (Jerome Ngom Mbekeli 58')
Subs Not Used: John Pulskamp, Kaveh Rad, Rassambek Akhmatov, Will Little
North Carolina FC: Darrin MacLeod; Caleb Duvernay, Aaron Guillen, Alex Comsia, D.J. Taylor; Nazmi Albadawi, Victor Igbekoyi; Ben Speas (C), Dre Fortune (Austin Panchot 87'), Yamikani Chester (Steven Miller 71'); Robert Kristo (Donovan Ewolo 67')
Subs Not Used: Alex Tambakis, Tim Mehl, Duval Wapiwo, Graham Smith
NC -- Yamikani Chester 2 (Robert Kristo 1) 6'
NC -- Andre Fortune 3 (unassisted) 13'
NC -- Yamikani Chester (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 28'
NC -- Aaron Guillen (yellow card; dissent) 50'
SPR -- Alexsander (yellow card; unsporting behavior) 63'
|Shots on Goal||0||9|
Referee: Eric Tattersall
Assistant Referee: Benjamin Wooten
Assistant Referee: Ryan Graves
Fourth Official: John Matto