NCFC drew Bethlehem Steel 3-3 on Saturday night at Sahlen’s Stadium. The home team led for a majority of the match but were stunned by a second-half Steel rally, which saw the team drop points for a third consecutive game.
The home team was without usual starting midfielders Nazmi Albadawi, Dre Fortune and substitute midfielder Yamikani Chester who were all away on international duty for Palestine, Trinidad and Tobago, and Malawi respectively.
“They’re important players to us,” head coach Dave Sarachan said. “Bean Speas is important to us, the ones you mentioned, [Aaron] Guillen, the guys who have been starters. But at the same time that is why you have a team, that's why you have 23 players. It was a lot of work for a number of guys that haven't seen a lot of minutes, I’ll never fault their effort, but there is a chemistry issue and there is some kinks to work out when you are new to one another.”
Austin da Luz opened the scoring on the night in the ninth minute with the midfielder firing home from the edge of the box. After picking up a loose ball outside the box, the midfielder took a couple of touches to settle the ball and get it out from under him before rifling a right-footed effort past the Stee’s Todd Morton.
“It was a weird one,” da Luz said. “ It looked like the referee wanted to call a handball, but he saw I was gonna pick it up so he said play on. Anytime you are cutting across the goal like that I think the keeper’s instinct is to lean to the far post and I think caught him cheating a little and was able to sneak one in the near post.”
Forward Robbie Kristo doubled the lead in the 20th minute on a brilliant set-piece routine. The big forward did well to hold off his defender and get on the end of a great freekick by holding mid Graham Smith. The forward then placed a perfect header onto the post and into the back of the net.
“We actually did practice set pieces a little more heavily,” Kristo said. “Last game, we had a couple mistakes, a couple bad runs, so we worked on them. I think we communicated well and got guys in the right spot.”
The Steel pulled one back right at the end of the half through Yomi Scintu who connected with a low cross and got just enough on it to put it past Alex Tambakis.
“The one that kills me is the one right before the half,” da Luz said. “I’ll take as much responsibility as captain you have to get in with a clean sheet up two goals. From there you give them a little momentum and we actually responded pretty well, came out and scored a goal right away which was what we wanted to do. We just couldn’t seem to put them away.”
NCFC as a whole found a lot of success down the wings and cutting the ball back along the ground. Both the outside mids, da Luz and Donovan Ewolo, and the fullbacks, Colton Storm and Caleb Duvernay, made great use of the wide area to provide service into the box during the first half.
Kristo grabbed his second of the night just three minutes into the second half. The forward stole the ball off a defender before placing a delicate chip over the onrushing keeper. He received a yellow card following the goal for his celebration, which saw him dawn a wrestling mask that he got from a fan.
“They threw [the mask] at me,” Kristo said. “You gotta respect the fans that are here every night, regardless if we win, lose or we tie they are here for us. We gotta be here for them.”
The Steel made it a one-goal game in the 60th minute through captain James Chambers. The midfielder lined up a freekick from 25 yards out and put it into the side netting to make it 3-2.
While NCFC looked to be seeing out the final half-hour, the Steele found an equalizer in the 84th through Shanyder Borgelin who connected with a deflected cross at the back post.
The result stings for NCFC as the team sits in sixth, the last of the playoff spots that does not have to play in the first round. With just three points separating them and Louisville City, the two extra points would have gone a long way to securing a top six spot in the table.
“Our mentality is playoffs right now,” Kristo said. “Some mistakes can’t be made and we are gonna work on them and fix them so they aren’t made. We are gonna be ok.”
NCFC will be back in action on Saturday, Sept. 14 away at Swope Park Rangers with kickoff set for 5 p.m.