It was a busy week for North Carolina FC head coach Colin Clarke.
The Raleigh-based NASL club defeated Puerto Rico FC on July 15, met with Major League Soccer executives and made a splashy announcement on the plans to build phenomenal new stadium in Downtown Raleigh on July 19, all while hosting Swansea City FC of the English Premier League scheduled for July 22.
“It was a great week,” said NCFC coach Colin Clarke. “Wednesday (the 19th) was a very busy day but very rewarding.”
Roughly 1,500 fans marched with players from both NCFC and North Carolina Courage, the women’s side of the franchise, through downtown Raleigh on Wednesday to a press conference where the 22,000-seat stadium featuring a translucent roof was announced.
“To see the amount of people who turned out was great to see,” said Clarke. “Seeing them walking to the venue chanting and signing was great to see.”
Ever since purchasing the NASL club, then named the Raleigh Railhawks in October of 2015, Steve Malik has been diligent about making good on his claim to bring the highest level of U.S. soccer to the Triangle area of North Carolina, which consists of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill and its 1.2 million people
“This is another important step in our pursuit of a Major League Soccer Franchise,” said Malik at the event. “Our vision is to make this facility a crown jewel for downtown Raleigh, providing a world-class sporting and social experience for fans and the community. We are ready to engage all of the relevant constituents, including our community members, legislators, city, county and state officials, to address questions and concerns and bring this vision to life.
The week ended with a 0-0 draw with Swansea City on July 22. It was the second-straight summer where an EPL team came to North Carolina as part of its pre-season tour. Last year, NCFC hosted West Ham United and played to a 2-2 draw
“I think it’s a great celebration of how we’ve grown as a club,” said Clarke. “To be able to bring another Premier League club is great for our fans to see and our players to play against.
“They are a very good team which we knew they would be,” added Clarke. “They put us under a lot of pressure. We had our moments, had our chances, but overall, we are delighted with how the game went.”
In the 19th minute, Dre Fortune had NCFC’s best chance. Fortune’s effort, however, was saved in the one-on-one duel by Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
“I think we could’ve scored maybe four or five goals,” said Swansea manager Paul Clement. “The goalkeepers did really well.
Macklin Robinson, a 23-year-old goalkeeper from Cincinnati and one of NCFC’s halftime substitutes, said Fabianski was one of the goalkeepers he admired growing up. Robinson produced two world-class saves in the second. In the 56th minute, he dove across the face of the goal to shove Leroy Fer’s point-blank header aside. He came up big again in the 73rd minute, denying Oli McBurnie’s header from inside the box.
For Swansea, the game was its third in the 10-day U.S. tour. The Swans drew with the Philadelphia Union of MLS on July 15, defeated the Richmond Kickers on July 19.
“We had multiple objectives when we came to America,” said Swansea manager Paul Clement. “One, clearly, was to get the team conditioned so that we are ready in three weeks. We are half-way there.
“The second thing was to develop some tactical ideas by playing different formations and playing players in different areas of the field. And we wanted to integrate some of the new signings we have and to make them part of the team. Developing that cohesiveness was one of the main objectives.”
Clarke made the most of the Swans visit to his town.
“Just to see the work and learn from them is valuable,” said Clarke. “I went and watched their training and see how they do things and how they set things up. They have been very open.
It’s been a very enjoyable week for everyone.”