NCFC fell to Indy Eleven on Saturday night by a score of 2-1 following an 87th-minute game-winning goal by Ilija Ilic.
The game-winner was against the run of play however with NCFC being the better of the two sides in the second half.
Indy Eleven opened the scoring thought Matt Watson in the 15th minute. The midfielder let fly from just over 30 yards out and the shot found its way into the bottom left corner of Alex Tambakis’s goal.
NCFC looked sloppy in the first half with several misplaced passes being picked off in dangerous positions and an unnecessary foul by defender Aaron Guillen which got the captain booked in the 27th minute.
“It was certainly a tale of two halves,” NCFC head coach Dave Sarachan said. “For whatever reason our first half was poor. We didn’t apply pressure, we allowed them time and space. The quality of our passing was poor. They outplayed us first half plain and simple.”
During that first half, NCFC held just 34% of the possession and struggled during build-up play, but the offense was surprisingly efficient, rattling off five shots, three of which hit the target. The five shots were only three less than Indy had in the half and the three on target was more than Indy managed in the first half.
At the half, Sarachan went to his bench to try and change the flow of the game with midfielder Graham Smith coming on for winger Manny Perez, who had missed ten league games before the game against Indy due to injury.
“We didn’t have Miller tonight and we thought Manny would be better for us as a starter,” Sarachan said. “But to be fair to Manny he hasn’t played in a while, I don’t think he quite got out of second gear in the first half. We needed to make a tactical change by adding Graham Smith, so we felt that would be the change there.”
The substitution allowed for both Dre Fortune and Nazmi Albadawi to push further up the field and create more while pushing Ben Speas out wide where Perez was to start the game. The change in personnel seemed to work as well with NCFC nearly scoring in the 47th minute.
“Coach brought in [Smith] and he is pretty good at sitting in that pocket,” Fortune said. “Just protecting the back four and allowing us more space up the field so that we can get on the ball in higher positions. It made a pretty positive impact for us in the second half.”
Albadawi clipped a ball past the Indy defense towards forward Donovan Ewolo who was narrowly beaten to the ball by the onrushing Indy keeper. The chance was the first of many over the following minutes as NCFC racked up six corners over the first 15 minutes of the half. But even with a wealth of chances, the home side could not find the back of the net until the 69th minute.
Following a nice piece of passing play between Yamikani Chester, Ewolo and Guillen the ball found its way to midfielder Dre Fortune on the edge of the box who took one touch to get it out from under his feet and then he fired the ball into the top right corner to level the score at one-all.
“Honestly it was like training,” Fortune said. “In training we do that kind of stuff a lot, cutbacks just taking a touch and finish. It was just all in one motion, just natural movement and I was happy to bring us level.”
Sarachan went back to his bench in the 83rd minute to give a debut to Justin Rennicks, who came in for Albadawi. The substitution was an offensively minded sub bringing in a forward for a holding midfielder. Rennicks nearly made an instant impact as well if the forward breaking into the box less than a minute into his debut, but he could not get the shot away.
Indy regained the lead in the 87th minute with a header by forward Ilija Ilic. The play was started by a brilliant scoop pass to Tyler Gibson who crossed the ball to Ilic at the far post. The goal was against the run of play in the second half as NCFC was the better of the two sides in the half, recording 12 second-half shots, compared to Indy’s six.
“You manage the game in a way where you just can’t allow them a second goal,” Sarachan said. “It kinda came out of nothing in some ways but give them credit, they did it late.”
NCFC’s next game will be at Memphis 901 on August 17 at 8:30 p.m.