On a rainy Saturday night in Johnson City, the Otters saw themselves stay unbeaten at home with a 2-2 draw against the NC Fusion U-23s. The result keeps the Otters hottest start in team history going as they improve to 2-1-2 and have eight points through five games.
The rain began during warmups and did not end until well after the match, causing the teams to have to adjust to the weather early on and feel the game out. The Otters nearly got on the board early when an Alex Horveno (Lynn) cross skimmed off a Fusion defender and caused the Fusion keeper to bobble the wet ball.
The Fusion also had a chance of their own early on when a they earned a free kick at the top of the box. The ensuing kick rattled off the cross bar, but went out for a goal kick.
As the game progressed, the Otters began to get more comfortable in the attack, with Horveno continuing to send in crosses. Blake Barribeau (Palm Beach Atlantic) found the ball at his feet a few times off of set pieces but was unable to get the shots on frame.
The breakthrough came in the 20th minute for the Otters when Stuart Hendry (Wingate) played a ball out wide to the red-hot Taylor Gray (Reinhardt) who beat his defender and rifled a shot far post to take the 1-0 lead. Gray became the first Otter in team history to score a goal in three straight matches with the strike.
On defense, the back line had another strong showing, led by centerback George Stanely (Montreat) who made several key blocks and interceptions in the first half to break up chances for the Fusion. Barribeau and Merveil Bilomba (ETSU) also did well to cut out many Fusion attacks. Going into the half the Otters were sitting on a 180-minute shutout streak.
Coming out of halftime, the Otters pushed for a second goal, with Hendry and Oscar Perez (Wingate) both getting early looks. With the weather and the opponent, things began to get physical and chippy on the pitch as the game remained tight.
In the 60th minute, the Fusion were able to equalize when a rolled shot was just able to get past Rubio at the near post.
The Otters refused to back down and were able to equalize only one minute later when Barribeau picked off a pass after the restart and played new signing Pol Vassart (Lees-McRae) in behind. Vassart raced past the defense and battled into the box and had the ball deflected and fall at Freddy Tracey’s (Charleston) feet who banged it in for the 2-1 lead.
The Fusion stepped their pressure from there, but the Otters continued to play strong defense. However, in the 70th minute, the Otters appeared to have thwarted another attack and cleared the ball, but it was called back for a controversial handball in the box giving the Fusion a penalty kick which Rubio was unable to stop, tying the game up once again.
From there the game remained testy, with three yellow cards issued in the final 20 minutes of the match. Both teams had half chances in that time, and with stoppage time waning down, the Otters nearly had a chance to steal all three points when a Barribeau long throw-in went off Bilomba’s head and bounced to Cole McLagan (Furman) who was unable to get a toe on it. The final whistle was blown immediately after the chance.
The draw moved the Otters past Wake FC on goal differential in the standings and puts them one point behind Virginia Beach United and two points behind Lionsbridge FC with one and three games in hand, respectively.
This Thursday the Otters will travel to Greenville FC down in South Carolina for an exhibition match against the NPSL side before returning home next Saturday, June 15th to face Wake FC at 7 PM at Kermit-Tipton Stadium! Tickets can be purchased at the gate or online using the HappsNow app or website. #FearTheFur