Following a statement 3-1 win over the USL Championship Eastern Conference leaders, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, on Saturday night, NCFC finds itself sitting at fifth in the standings and only three points away from second place after 13 games.
The win was largely due to an inspired performance by midfielder Dre Fortune, who snagged a brace from midfield. Midfielder Steven Miller added an insurance goal in the 77th minute to lock up the three points.
While Miller has had solid production from the wing with seven total goal involvements in 11 starts this season, the club got a recent boost in the midfield from the return of former captain and Wolfpack alum Nazmi Albadawi.
The club announced Albadawi’s return on loan from Cincinnati FC for the remainder of the season on May 29, and Albadawi has played a full 90 minutes in each of the games since his return, slotting into a midfield that has seen a good deal of rotation in recent matches.
Albadawi made 113 appearances for NCFC between 2014 and 2017, scoring 21 goals for the then-Carolina Railhawks before moving to then-USL Championship side Cincinnati FC. The Palestinian international impressed in the USL Championship for Cincinnati, but he found his minutes limited once the club moved up to the MLS, making just one substitute appearance before moving back to Raleigh on loan.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to bring back Nazmi to our club for many reasons,” said NCFC head coach Dave Sarachan in a club statement. “First and most importantly, he is a player with great ability and technical skill that will help our team on both sides of the ball. Equally important, he is a person of great character and possesses leadership skills that transcend beyond the playing field. Along with the fact that he is highly respected in this area and community, we feel we’ve added a tremendous all-around player and person that will help our team immediately.”
Albadawi’s return comes at a good time for the club, with a U.S. Open Cup matchup against MLS side NYCFC set for Wednesday. The New York-based club currently sits at No. 6 in the MLS Eastern Conference and is entering the game on a 10-match unbeaten streak which includes wins against LA Galaxy and Albadawi’s parent club, Cincinnati FC.
The U.S. Open Cup, which is comparable in format to England’s FA Cup, is a competition that NCFC has a rich history with, including a stretch of three consecutive victories over an LA Galaxy side which featured USMNT legend Landon Donovan.
NYCFC is a relatively new club in the MLS, joining in 2015, but despite the relatively new status of the team, the club has a lot of resources, being a part of the City Football Group which includes the likes of Manchester City, Melbourne City and Girona.
The New York club is managed by a former assistant of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Domènec Torrent, and will present a tough challenge for NCFC. But with the momentum built off the win against the Rowdies, the underdog has a real shot in Wednesday’s matchup.
One player who will be crucial in Wednesday’s matchup is midfielder Ben Speas. Speas has three assists this season and has been a creative powerhouse with 35 chances created, which is 22 more than any other player on the team.
With a midfield as entertaining to watch as NCFC’s, it could be easy to forget the solid season at the back the team is having. Conceding just 11 goals in 13 USL Championship games this season, the club boasts an impressive plus-11 goal difference. A large portion of the defensive stability comes down to goalkeeper Alex Tambakis who, according to a tweet from the club, with his six saves against the Rowdies currently has the second-highest save percentage in the Eastern Conference.
If Tambakis can have a similar performance to Saturday's on Wednesday, then the USL side has a good shot to advance past the U.S. Open Cup Fourth Round.
The game against NYCFC is set to kick off at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Belson Stadium in Queens, New York.