By Sam Vanolinda/NPSL.com
Appalachian FC kicked off its season Wednesday night, facing NC Fusion U23 in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup at the Ted Mackorell Soccer Complex.
The Black and Gold won the game in thrilling fashion, going to penalties after the game finished 2-2 and winning 3-0 in front of 1,811 fans and supporters.
The contest started off perfectly for Appalachian FC, with midfielder Carson Dinger slotting through forward Camden Holbrook before he calmly poked the ball past the keeper in the first minute.
Holbrook’s first-half account didn’t end there. After some back-and-forth play, in the 31st minute, London Williams bolted down the right wing. He would find midfielder Thomas De Graaw, who laid the ball off for Holbrook to finish his second of the day into the bottom right corner.
The half ended in a chaotic manner. NC Fusion forward Juan Fernandez Garcia-Barrero scored a thumping header in the 38th minute, bringing the score to 2-1. Just a minute later Fusion defender Brian Torre was sent off after a high cleat against Appalachian FC defender Charlie Curtis.
Appalachian FC went into the half with a 2-1 lead and a man advantage, hoping to close out the game in the second half with the extra player on the field.
That man down did not seem to affect NC Fusion, and they began to control possession and dominate scoring chances early in the second half.
“We thought the red card would change the game dramatically but it didn’t,” Appalachian FC head coach Dale Parker said. “They were very good in the second half.”
This culminated in a game-tying goal for the Fusion courtesy of an unsavable free kick by midfielder Frederico Ferreira in the 78th minute.
After back-and-forth chances and last-stitch defending by both teams, the game finished 2-2 and headed to two 15-minute extra-time halves.
There were more back-and-forth chances in these periods. Even after NC Fusion’s Adam Burchell was shown a second yellow in the 116th minute of the game, Appalachian FC still could not find the decisive goal; the game would go to penalties.
“The only way to separate us was penalties,” Parker said. “I don’t like penalties, I’m glad it’s over, I’ll tell you that.”
NC Fusion showed composure to keep the game so close even with 10, and then nine men, but when it came to penalties they struggled.
The first two Fusion penalties both were hit over the crossbar and the final hit the crossbar. For Appalachian FC on the other hand, defender and captain Max Landau slotted the ball home comfortably, followed by Boone’s own Kevin Arguello smashing the ball top shelf.
The third and final penalty to win the game was taken by midfielder Kevin De Lange, and he made no mistake about it, sending the crowd into a frenzy and booking a trip to Charlotte to face the Independence in the next round of the Open Cup.
“The fans got us over the line tonight,” Parker said. “I always say whenever we play at home, we always have a massive chance. They give us the extra energy and extra wind.”
Just months prior Holbrook was celebrating winning the NCAA Men’s National Championship with Syracuse, winning that game on penalties, and now he was back in Boone doing the same thing.
“Winning the national championship on PKs and then this game on PKs again, it’s definitely an amazing feeling,” Holbrook said.
Holbrook says he feels “confident” heading into the next round against the Charlotte Independence.
“We will give them our best performance and effort, we will control what we can control,” Holbrook added. “We know they are a pro team but we are going to go in there and play our game.”
Photo Credit: Sam Vanolinda/NPSL.com