By Aidan McCarthy/Asheville City SC
Asheville City SC played their second match of their 2019 National Premier Soccer League regular season campaign on Saturday night, away to Greenville FC in what was the home side’s season opener. Coming off of a last-minute defeat to Inter Nashville FC in their opening match, the Blues looked to grab something for their efforts this time around, especially considering the added implications behind this match—it was the first leg of the 2019 Carolina Clasico.
Asheville City kicked off the first half and were almost able to open the scoresheet early when a Lukas Joyner cross came close to finding Tobias Karlsen in front of goal in the second minute of action. Joyner, a regular starting fullback for the Blues was lined up at right wing for this match, made his defensive ability known in the fifth minute by tracking back and blocking Greenville’s first shot attempt.
Building on the defensive work from the first match against Inter Nashville FC, Blues goalkeeper Pijus Petkevicius made a big saves in the fifth and 14th minutes while captain Jamie Smith did well to close down Greenville’s number 10 on a breakaway in the 23rd minute before left winger Pedro Benitez retook possession.
Three big chances for the Blues came one after the next beginning in the 28th minute when midfielder Chris Allan fired a shot on goal from an advanced position that was saved well by the home side’s keeper, but resulted in a corner kick. The corner was knocked in by Jamie Smith, who gave the Blues a one-goal lead in the 29th minute. Asheville City regained possession almost immediately after Greenville restarted play and launched an attack down the left wing before the ball was crossed towards the back post where Tobias Karlsen was waiting to head in the Blues’ second in the 30th minute. That was two goals in two minutes.
The final fifteen of the first half saw increased pressure from the home side who were looking to grab one back before the break, but Asheville City’s backline were able to hold on strong and prevent Greenville from scoring before the break.
Halftime lasted 40 minutes due to a large storm that had rolled into the area at the end of the first half, but play resumed in the rain as Greenville kicked off for the second half.
Moments after the restart in the 48th minute, the home side grabbed a goal back after capitalizing on Pijus Petkevicius’ rebound save to drop the deficit to one. The Blues made their first substitution in the 52nd minute when Nathan Watt came on for Pedro Benito in a like-for-like swap on the wing. At this point, action was end-to-end but both sides were struggling to string passes together in the wet conditions.
Looking to retake a two-goal lead, the Blues subbed on another forward in the 61st minute when earlier goalscorer Tobias Karlsen came off for Hady Sarr, which marked the first appearance for the Senegalese forward. Sarr’s involvement in the match looked promising, but the next Blues opportunity came in the 72nd minute with a Chris Allan left-footed curler that just missed the upper-left corner of the net, landing on top of goal instead.
Sensing danger, Greenville upped the pressure once again and launched attack after attack only to be stuffed out by the Blues defenders. In the 76th minute, the home side won a corner kick that resulted in a bicycle kick attempt that flew high over the net. In the 81st, another Greenville attack ended in the hands of Petkevicius who positioned himself well to preserve the Blues’ lead.
Everything changed in the 82nd minute when Greenville equalized from a set piece just outside of the box, bringing the score to two apiece. The final minutes of the game were played mostly within midfield as both sides’ defenders were committed to preventing any more chances, resulting in the same scoreline at the final whistle. The first leg of the 2019 Carolina Clasico ended 2-2, leaving it all down to the second leg on Saturday, June 8th at Memorial Stadium.
Photo Credit: Aidan McCarthy/Asheville City SC