Visibly gassed and seemingly unable to get a break, the green and blue hoops of an injury-ravaged and exhausted St. Louis FC played host to North Carolina FC as they looked to regain their league form. A regular starting XI that hasn’t seen a rest in weeks and with the U19 Academy team away at national playoffs, this was always going to be an uphill battle for an STLFC team that couldn’t even field a full bench. With the early season USL form seemingly leaving for the Open Cup, STLFC needed to regain some of that old glory, and with the score finishing 2-2 against North Carolina FC, they settled for a draw in a match that will be viewed as a missed opportunity to get back on track in the league campaign.
The opening in the scoring came in the 32nd minute, when NCFC captain Steven Miller put in a cross to a completely unmarked Donovan Ewolo to head in to beat Tomas Gomez, who has appeared to have stolen the starting job from Jake Fenlason. These are the kind of goals that highlight the defensive issues that this team has been dealing with since the beginning of the season, with them becoming more and more evident as the form shifts further from a regular pick up of three points.
It wouldn’t take long after halftime for STLFC to get back on level terms, as a free kick that was an unusually poor ball from Lewis Hilton ended up back in possession of the hosts, and Guy Abend put a mesmerizing defense-splitting ball into the feet of Albert Dikwa for his first goal of the season. With the scores even, everything was there to be played for.
With the match seemingly stalling toward a draw, disaster struck for St. Louis FC, as the ball came to Steven Miller inside the box, and his shot looked as though it would be a tame save for Gomez if it had come all the way through, but it had unavoidably deflected off of STLFC captain Sam Fink and completely wrong-footed the keeper to make the score 2-1 in favor of NCFC.
STLFC was given a lifeline in the 88th minute, as Kadeem Dacres was fouled inside the box, forcing the referee to point to the spot and award the hosts a penalty. Up stepped Fink, looking to redeem himself after the shot that had given NCFC the lead had deflected off of him. Up he stepped, sending Alex Tambakis the wrong way and putting his team back on level terms, scoring his fifth goal in all competitions. St. Louis native and former STLFC Academy standout Austin Panchot checked into the game.
Pushing forward, STLFC came close to a winner in stoppage time, after a corner from Hilton had multiple chances to be put away and a last minute play ending with a shot being blocked on its way to the goal, but efforts came to no avail.
With that result, it means that STLFC are winless in their last five league outings. While doing well in the Open Cup should always be a priority for the team, the league is always what should be coming first, and the fact that the team continue to drop points at this rate should be an alarming sign of what could be coming. The team have fallen from being in first place not too long ago to being ninth and thirteen points off the top spot. While making the playoffs is the first concern, the fact that they have let the top seed slip away is extremely alarming, and should this form continue, the team could fall out of the playoff spots once again.
STLFC Starting XI (4-4-2): Gomez; Bahner, Fink ©, Kavita, Kamdem Fewo; Hilton, Abend, Gee, Cicerone; Greig, Calvert
STLFC Bench: Fenlason; Reynolds; Martz, Dacres; Dikwa
NCFC Starting XI (4-4-2): Tambakis; Duvernay, Comsia, Taylor, Guillen; Fortune, Albadawi, Miller ©; Ewolo, Chester
NCFC Bench: Macleon; Mehl, Brotherton; Smith, Wapino; Panchot