901 FC's Matt Hundley Takes Control in North Carolina 

How about Matt Hundley’s left foot? There are a lot of games I feel 901 FC should have won this season, but judging by the eye test, yesterday’s match away to North Carolina FC was not one of them. When the home team’s DJ Taylor nodded in unmarked to equalize in stoppage time, it looked like it would be another night of frustration. But Hundley had the final word, the substitute pulling a rabbit out of a hat to hand Memphis three points in a 3-2 victory.

click to enlarge Rafa Mentzingen – pictured here at a home game at AutoZone Park – opened the scoring for 901 FC in the first half against North Carolina - ERIC GLEMSER
  • Eric Glemser
  • Rafa Mentzingen – pictured here at a home game at AutoZone Park – opened the scoring for 901 FC in the first half against North Carolina

We’ve seen plenty of narrow, one-goal losses where Memphis, statistically, has outplayed its opponent in every department except scoring. And sure, while putting the ball in the back of the net is the most important thing, it was frustrating to see so many good performances go to waste. But last night, 901 FC showcased a clinical approach to goal that has been lacking all season. Sure, Memphis rode its luck for large stretches; some of the chances NC missed have to be seen to be believed. But in crunch time, all that matters are the three points.

There were a few flashes of promise for 901 FC outside the goals, but NC pretty much ran the show all night. The home team held 68 percent possession, outshot Memphis 25-7, and had 10 corners (Memphis had 0). It felt like jumping into a soccer version of Freaky Friday; we’ve seen Coach Tim Mulqueen set up the squad to be proactive in its play for most of the season, so it’s rare to see Memphis on the back foot like this. For much of the night, 901 FC looked sluggish.

Tommy McCabe, Jose Baxter, and Jean-Christophe Koffi started in midfield, but the press was disjointed at times, leaving NC free to play into space and isolate the Memphis defenders. Manny Perez, in particular, caused 901 FC no end of trouble racing in down the left side of our defense and sending in quality service that NC contrived to squander time and again. Up top, Brandon Allen chased down long balls and hassled defenders, but didn’t receive much in the way of service from his teammates.

Memphis struck first, with a type of play we’ve seen many times this season: a lofted ball over the top down the right flank. Mark Segbers (and his late runs) is usually the recipient of this kind of pass, but with the fullback out of the team tonight, Rafa Mentzingen picked up the slack this time. In the 30th minute, Baxter swiveled away from pressure in the center circle and first-timed a pass into the Brazilian’s path, who made several stepovers before cutting inside and smashing a shot past NC keeper Alex Tambakis at the near post.

NC remained on the front foot through the rest of the first half and much of the second, but in the 75th minute, substitute Cal Jennings took down a long ball and caressed it into McCabe’s path. The midfielder played it out to Hundley, who sprinted upfield before delicately cutting onto his left and placing the ball underneath Tambakis and into the far corner for 2-0.

That’s when the game should have been done and dusted, but NC cranked the pressure up to maximum and battered Memphis’ increasingly creaky defense. First, Robbie Kristo struck to make it 2-1 in the 86th minute. And when the fourth official indicated that there would be nine minutes of stoppage time, it seemed likely that there would be another late concession. Sure enough, Taylor was inexplicably left unmarked in a packed Memphis box in the 91st to nod home for 2-2. It was a script we’d seen all too often this season. Memphis has had trouble holding on to a winning position this season, and NC seemed well poised to get another. But while I was busy holding my head in my hands, the Memphis players were dusting themselves off to have one last crack at a winner.

In the 98th minute, with everyone forward, Liam Doyle flicked a pass towards Zach Carroll, who played a ball out wide to Hundley. The substitute forward controlled it on the end line and didn’t look to have much on. But with a quick shimmy, he cut back into the box and wrapped his foot around the ball, cleverly bending it around NC defender Conor Donovan and into the far corner to secure the victory.

Hundley magic aside, 901 FC didn’t have much going for it this game. NC found it very easy to break through both the midfield pressure and the defensive lines. NC’s Perez in particular got behind many times, and again, it’s hard to believe how many good chances the home team missed. But a win is a win, and points are going to be at a premium in the run-in. 901 FC only has five games remaining, and is third in Group G on 10 points (level with NC, who have played one less game). Charlotte, in second, is on 18 points. Realistically, they might be too far ahead to catch, but with 15 points up for grabs, there’s still a chance. For now, Memphis has the chance to bloody NC’s nose again in a rematch on Sunday. Can 901 FC make it five out of five down the stretch? It just might have to.

901 FC faces off against Group G opponents North Carolina FC at 5:00 pm Sunday, September 13.

Watch highlights from the match here.

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