Photo Credit: theprojectfc
The expansion San Francisco Deltas have been one of the biggest surprises of the season in terms of on field performance. Led by one of the top coaches in all of North America, Marc Dos Santos, the Deltas have achieved every goal that he set out for the team in their inaugural season. By finishing 2nd in the overall standings they earned the right to host a semi final at Kezar Stadium.
Their opponent in the semi final, North Carolina FC, is just one year into a rebrand. They qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and just the 2nd time in 6 seasons under Head Coach Colin Clarke.
Both coaches are two of the most experienced coaches in the history of the NASL and North American Pro Soccer. Both have coached in the NASL, USL, USSF D2, and in the Concacaf Champions League. Both have also lifted a Pro championship trophy as well. I expect both coaches to have their teams fully prepared for this game.
The Deltas were one of the most difficult teams in the League to beat as they suffered just one road defeat all season. They finished 2nd in both the spring and fall seasons to the League leaders, Miami FC. After a strong spring campaign, the Deltas lost 7-0 to Miami. This led Head Coach Marc Dos Santos to adjust his formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 to better suit the players on the team. While they suffered just a single road loss, they were beaten at home five times at Kezar, including a 2-0 loss to Jacksonville in the final week of the season. The Deltas are an incredibly balanced team with no real individual star as six different players picked up a total of eight NASL Player of the Week honors throughout the season.
North Carolina used a strong fall season to propel themselves back into a playoff spot for the first time in 5 years. After finishing 5th place in the spring season, Carolina topped both the Armada and the Cosmos to earn the 3 seed in the playoffs. They began their Fall campaign with a 3-2 win over the League’s top team, Miami FC, to jump start their season. Like the Deltas, North Carolina, might be a stronger team away from home than at WakeMed Soccer Park, as they earned just one win with a 1-6-1 record at home in the Fall season, but were 4-3-1 away from home. They also finished the season with the 2nd best goal differential with plus nine, three better than the Deltas. North Carolina had four different players win the NASL Player of the Week award throughout the season.
The Deltas were riding a ten-match unbeaten run heading into their final regular season match. Included in that record were a win and two draws vs. the League’s top team, Miami FC. That all came to a sudden end as the Deltas dropped their final regular season match to Jacksonville by a score of 2-0. That ten match unbeaten run dates back to a 2-1 home loss to Edmonton back at the end of August.
North Carolina’s last loss was on September 13th to Indianapolis by a score of 1-0. Since then, Carolina has managed to go seven straight games unbeaten, including a 5-0 dismantling of the Indy 11. They have, however, only drawn their last three matches, including a 1-1 draw with San Francisco just two weeks ago.
Previous meetings between NCFC and SF
April 8th Kezar Stadium 3-1 Deltas
In the first ever match between the two clubs, North Carolina took the lead in the 23rd minute with a goal by Ty Shipalane before Tommy Heinemann would equalize the match just before the half for the Deltas. The match remained fairly balanced before a Golazo from Pablo Dyego gave the Deltas the 2-1 lead in the 82nd minute. Tommy Heinemann would go on to score his 2nd goal and kill the game off in stoppage time. Heinemann would win the week 3 NASL player of the Week award for his two-goal effort in that match.
March 6th WakeMed Soccer Park 2-1 Deltas
The Deltas got on the board early in the 22nd minute off a beautiful corner from Christian Portilla that Ferreira headed home easily. The match was kept level for most of the game as Romuld Peiser came up with multiple big saves for the Deltas. North Carolina eventually found an equalizer in the 85th minute through Billy Schuler after some poor play at the back from the Deltas. The Deltas responded immediately as Portilla found the head of Jackson from a free kick to grab the late winner for San Francisco. The two assist game would earn Portilla the NASL Player of the week award in week 7.
August 19th Kezar Stadium 1-1 Draw
This match was highlighted by a stand out performance from Brian Sylvestre in which he made 6 saves. The Deltas took 19 shots in this match but only managed a lone goal when a corner from Dagoberto rebounded off the crossbar and led to a scramble in the box, eventually poked home by Patrick Hopkins in the 60th minute. North Carolina would equalize from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute by Lance Laing. Sylvestre then saved the draw late with two huge saves in the 84th minute.
October 21st WakeMed Soccer Park 1-1 Draw
Just two weeks ago, the pair of teams faced off in the most evenly balanced match of the four. Austin Da Luz scored the opening goal for North Carolina off of a perfect cross from local North Carolina product, Andre Fortune. The Deltas would fight back and earn the draw when Pablo Dyego headed home off of a corner kick in the 68th minute to equalize the match.
Key players to watch
Heinemann was rested last week in the Deltas regular season finale for precautionary reasons and should be back in the starting line up for this match. He is San Francisco’s leading goal scorer with 9 goals, including 2 against North Carolina. He is known to come up big in the NASL playoffs as he scored both a brace in the 2015 semifinals for Ottawa vs. Minnesota and in the finals vs. the NY Cosmos.
Peiser has been a wall in the net for the Deltas all season and has taken over the captain’s duties for much of the season as injuries have kept Attakora and Portilla out. He was the key to the Deltas 2-1 win over North Carolina back on March 6th and is 2nd in the league with 12 clean sheets. He is also a former NASL Golden Glove winner.
Gibson has become the most consistent outfield player on the team after taking over the defensive midfield duties from Portilla midway through the season. He has appeared in 30 matches for the Deltas, one behind both Peiser and Ferreira for most on the team. Gibson wore the armband for the final match of the season proving that he has become one of the leaders on the team.
The midseason signing of Dagoberto has been excellent for the Deltas in his limited action. The five-time Brazilian League champion brings a load of experience in big game matches to the Deltas. While he only made 8 starts, he was able to score 3 goals and provided 3 assists.
The on-loan player from Fluminense is the club’s most versatile attacking player the Deltas have. He is 2nd on the team with 6 goals and was nominated for the NASL Young Player of the Season award.
Following a hot start to the season that saw Laing leading his team, he has fallen out of favor just a little bit for North Carolina. He did however come off the bench in the final match to provide the assist off of a corner kick that earned North Carolina the 3 seed. Laing leads his team in both goals and assist with 8 and 4, respectively. He is also a 3-time NASL best XI selection, earning the honor at 3 different positions.
While Schuler hasn’t been the first choice forward for most of the season behind both Matt Fondy and Rena Gorne, he did score twice in the final match to help his side earn the 3 seed. Schuler has started just 7 matches, but has 6 goals of the season, including one against the Deltas back on March 6th in the 2-1 loss for his team.
The captain has played in all 32 matches for his club, leading his team by example. He is tied for the team lead in assists with 4, and is the club’s main playmaker from his role in the center of midfield. Albadawi is a local Raleigh, North Carolina product and plays like the club is his own as he’s been part of the club his entire career.
Tobin has been part of North Carolina dating back to 2014, but this will be his first venture into the NASL playoffs with the team. He has been a rock in the back for North Carolina for years and was so again this year, starting and playing in 31 of the teams 32 games.
The Haitian international is one of the League’s best ball playing center backs. He can also play in the defensive midfield role like he did when he earned NASL best XI honors with Fort Lauderdale in 2015.
1-1 SF Deltas Advance on Penalties
After four matches against each other this season, there has not been much to separate the two sides, especially in the final two meetings. Neither side has been able to keep a clean sheet against the other in those four matches. Both of the Deltas victories against North Carolina could easily have been draws as the Deltas won both games late. Because of this, it is hard not to expect a low scoring draw.
I predict the goal scorers will be Billy Schuler who is in good form heading into this match and Tommy Heinemann who knows how to score in NASL playoff games and against Carolina. I have the Deltas advancing on penalties due to Peiser’s top class shot stopping abilities.