Asheville City SC answered a first-half goal with one of its own but was unable to find the same magic in the second half as the Blues fell 3-1 to the New Orleans Jesters.
After a disheartening loss to Greenville FC, the Blues were looking to get back into form and boost their playoff hopes. They knew they would face a tough test as New Orleans was leading the conference entering the match.
Asheville City sent out a strong lineup with Elma N’For in the starting XI for the first time since a 2-0 defeat in Knoxville on June 9th.
The Blues got their first chance in just the first minute when Kristian Moore-Cowell sent a shot on goal after the Jesters were unable to clear. For the next 10 minutes, neither side was able to establish much on the offensive side of the ball.
The Jesters caught the Blues off-guard in the 15th minute as they sent a shot towards the far post the Parker Siegfried was able to get a finger on to force a corner. Both teams then traded possession until Moore-Cowell sent a cross into the box in the 25th minute for what was the best chance of the match thus far for the Blues.
Unfortunately for Asheville City, the goalkeeper quickly got the ball to Mason Walsh, who sped down the wing and whipped a ball to Thomas Peers that found the back of the net before Siegfried could blink.
Down but not out, the Blues strung together successive attacks resulting in a 28th minute corner that Luke Matthews headed just high. After fighting away another New Orleans attack, Asheville City made its way down the field once again. Tom Deeley found himself on the ball, sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, and swung the ball over to N’For who found the back of the net to equalize the match.
Encouraged and energized by their equalizer, the Blues put together another attack in the 38th minute that saw N’For bring a ball down inside the box. His brace was put on hold however, as his shot was sent just wide.
The match went to halftime with the score deadlocked at one. Asheville City had fought back and garnered almost all the momentum. If the Blues played the second half like they did at the end of the first, they’d be in good shape. Unfortunately for the Blues, New Orleans had other plans.
After a couple of early second-half chances, New Orleans grabbed all the momentum back when Tony Juduice somehow got a weakly-struck ball past Siegfried in the 54th minute for a 2-1 lead.
Four minutes later, halftime substitute Elliott Cutts found N’For alone in the box but N’For’s blast was sent directly at the New Orleans goalkeeper. In the minutes that followed, Asheville City put two more solid runs together, but neither was fruitful.
What momentum the Blues had seized evaporated in the 66th minute when Oliver Roberts rifled a free kick into the top left corner of the goal, giving the Jesters a commanding 3-1 lead.
Lukas Joyner sent a rocket towards goal three minutes later, but the New Orleans goalkeeper was somehow able to get in front of it.
New Orleans played back for the rest of the match as Asheville City tried desperately to get back into the match. Cutts was inches away from getting a goal back in the 73rd minute as his shot from distance bounced off the crossbar.
The Blues mustered a few more chances in the rest of the match but it was to no avail as the Jesters walked away with all three points after they scored two unanswered second-half goals.
Asheville City now faces must-win territory as it heads to Greenville for the second leg of the Carolina Clasico on Wednesday.
Contributor: Alex McLoughlin/Asheville City SC
Photo Credit: Shane Burke