A Tampa Bay Rowdies player lines up to take a penalty, which was saved by the North Carolina FC keeper. Photo by Cameron Koubek
The inaugural USL Academy Eastern Conference Regional Event began in fine fashion on Friday, as all 12 teams were in action for their tournament openers across the afternoon.
North Carolina FC and Tampa Bay Rowdies played out a thrilling first match on the stadium field at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch. The Rowdies came roaring out of the gate, as a 2nd minute header from Ethan Chadwick quickly followed by an NCFC own goal put them up 2-0 inside 15 minutes.
North Carolina would pull one back through Kiran Chikmath, but Tampa Bay immediately responded with another two goals from Adrian Maldonado and Marcello Valbuena.
Though they trailed 4-1 at the break, NCFC looked the better side through much of the second half. Luke Hille, who is signed to a USL Academy contract with the NCFC senior team in the USL Championship, led the comeback effort from the front. His well-placed header pulled his side within one goal late on, but they ultimately fell just short and the Rowdies earned a 4-3 opening victory.
All three simultaneous 5 p.m. kickoffs were similarly close contests. In a matchup of two youth clubs that field senior teams in USL League Two, Chicago FC United narrowly beat Boston Bolts despite conceding an own goal equalizer early in the second half.
Rowdies players celebrate taking a lead in the 2nd minute. Photo by Cameron Koubek
Elsewhere, two excellent individual performances spurred Charlotte Independence and Cedar Stars Rush to respective wins. Charlotte’s Alex Acton scored close to halftime, and the Queen City side was able to effectively see out waves of pressure from Weston FC thanks to some spectacular saves from goalkeeper Jordan Charles, who was terrific between the posts and deserving of his clean sheet.
Cedar Stars Rush’s Ronald Arevalo showed why he’ll be a force to reckon with for any opposing defense. The pacy attacker, who recently signed with Danish professional side HB Koge, wriggled into position for a well-struck goal in the first half, and earned his team a penalty late in the match to seal the win.
Charlotte Independence goalkeeper Jordan Charles kept a clean sheet in his side's 1-0 victory over Weston FC. Photo by Cameron Koubek
The action concluded with Tormenta FC taking on FC Miami City and Louisville City FC facing Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. Louisville City’s attack was firing on all cylinders, scoring more goals than any other team on the day. Their 7-2 win was highlighted by a top-class free-kick from Carlos Moguel.
Tormenta and Miami City played to a 2-2 draw, as both teams showed their quality but neither was able to find a winner. Enrique Armada's free kick for Miami rivaled Moguel's for the goal of the day, swerving into the top corner from 35 yards out.
All eight Elite Division teams return to the field on Saturday for their second games of the event, with play beginning at 12:30 p.m. EST. Follow @USL_HQ on Twitter for updates and results.