Pack Pro and North Carolina FC legend Nazmi Albadawi ended his professional career in dream fashion, scoring twice in his final game to help lead his club to a 4-1 victory on Saturday, Sept. 11.
Albadawi announced his decision to retire on Sept. 3, hanging up his boots after eight years as a professional. The bulk of his career was spent with NCFC, previously the RailHawks, who gave the NC State alum his first professional contract in 2014.
“It's bittersweet,” Albadawi said. “I'm excited for the new journey, but I'm going to miss playing out here, especially on this field, in front of our fans. There was a great turnout today, which I was very touched by. Looking more importantly at the bigger picture, it was a big win for the team, which I'm really happy about. Everyone played great. I think it was our best performance of the season as well, so it was a great way to go out.”
As he exited the field one last time in the 73rd minute, Albadawi received a standing ovation from the crowd. A fitting farewell for someone of his stature.
“I'm very proud of everything I've done on the field, but I'd like to be remembered for the person I was off the field as well,” Albadawi said. “I hope people think of me as someone that was receptive and always gave my all and treated everyone respectfully. I'm trying to be the best person I can be for my son and lead by example, because he can watch videos of me on the field but I care more about him as a person, and myself as a person than anything that I did out there.”
New England Revolution II tried to spoil the celebration, scoring an early opener, but an emphatic and energetic performance from NCFC proved to be unbeatable on the night.
“I think everybody in that locker room really wanted to make sure that Naz went out with the right energy and the right game this evening,” said NCFC head coach John Bradford. “To get a result, because if you ask Naz, he doesn't care about any of the cheering and the special recognitions and getting subbed off, he just wants to win the game and he wants to give everything he has to the fans and to his teammates. I think that was reciprocated by the group tonight.”
Albadawi netted his first goal in the 16th minute, making a long run out the midfield and into the box. Midfielder Jay Tee Kamara clipped in a perfect ball behind the defense, finding Albadawi in acres of space. Albadawi rounded the keeper and slotted the ball into an opener net, before peeling off with his arms outstretched in celebration.
Adding to the fairy-tale ending, Albadawi bagged a second goal in the 54th minute. Firing it in from outside the box, Albadawi ran right for the supporters’ section, celebrating a goal with the club’s most loyal fans for one last time as a player.
“I was actually thinking about it before the game, because there was that clip of Kupono Low scoring a goal and then celebrating with me in the stands as well,” Albadawi said. “So I thought about how if I scored a goal I would try to find a group of kids and celebrate with them. And it's funny, because I saw a group of 13-year-olds or 12-year-olds that I coach were there. So I took advantage of it.”
Shortly after Albadawi’s first goal, forward Josh Coan gave NC the lead with the eventual winner in the 26th minute. Coan drove right at the defense and used a couple of step overs to open himself up for the shot.
Kamara got in on the scoring fun in the 64th minute, firing a shot off the far post and into the back of the net.
Adding to the celebratory atmosphere of the evening, 15-year-old goalkeeper Nicholas Holliday made his home debut and first start since signing a professional deal against New England. The young keeper came up with some incredible saves during stoppage time to keep New England from adding another goal. Holliday made six saves and received a yellow card for time wasting; an overall solid and well-rounded evening for the new pro.
“Nicholas Holiday, you can't think about this game without the performance that he put in,” Bradford said. “Big save after big save in the second half specifically, but I think it's easy for everybody to see the future that's ahead for that young man. Obviously we're excited for that performance and for what he has ahead.”
NCFC will be back in action on Saturday, Sept. 18, travelling to Tennessee to take on the Chattanooga Red Wolves.