On April 8th, the latest round of the US Open Cup draw took place. The Richmond Kickers were put in a group with fellow USL League 1 team Greenville Triumph, MLS Newcomers Charlotte FC, and USL League 1 Knockout artist NC Fusion U-23. Since Charlotte FC could not host due to a Billy Joel concert taking place on the same day, Greenville or Richmond would host Charlotte FC or NC Fusion. Greenville got the more lucrative draw in Charlotte FC as Richmond drew the Fusion. NC Fusion won’t be a pushover though, as in the previous round they knocked out the other team in Charlotte, the Independence. We reached out to Chris Williams, the Head Coach of NC Fusion U-23, for some insight on the “Underdogs” of the Carolinas.
- How was the club founded?
CW: NC Fusion was formed in 2018 as a Twin City Sports Association management company and Greensboro United Soccer Association; the official merger was completed in July 2021.
- Who are some big-name players who have played for NC Fusion/Carolina Dynamo?
- Brandt Bronico - Played at NC Fusion and Carolina Dynamo
- Wells Thompson - Played for New England Revolution, Colorado Rapids, and Chicago Fire
- Tanner Beason -Currently plays for the San Jose Earthquakes
- Stern John - Played for the Columbus Crew and in England, playing for clubs such as Nottingham Forest and Southampton
- What are the club ties to Nottingham Forest?
CW- In 1993, the Dynamo, based in Greensboro, N.C., won the USISL championship in the club’s first season. Founded by Neil Macpherson, a British transplant with a life-long love of Nottingham Forest, the Dynamo proceeded on a quarter-century journey through the grassroots level of pro soccer in the U.S. Macpherson was a shareholder at the City Ground whose father was Forest chairman between 1980 and 1983.
That first team in ’93 was built around former UNC Greensboro players, and over the years, several Dynamo players have advanced up the ladder.
- Being a USL League 2 club, how does the team recruit players?
CW- It's been challenging to be completely honest. Because of the rules around the recruitment of players for the NCAA, we have had to be creative with the players we have brought in for the Open Cup. In essence, we have had to recruit two teams, one for the Open Cup and another for the Summer! Regarding our recruitment, we have specific player profiles that we work from and look for particular players based on the position on the field. We are very fortunate that we have an extensive network of players and coaches from across the US and Abroad that we trust and place our faith in for players that play in the summer. Nevertheless, for us, it's all about character and being a top-level person. It doesn't matter if you are the best player in the country; you have to be a top person first to get yourself in the door!
- Last year, this club made a deep run into the USL League 2 playoffs; what did the run mean for your club and what were some of the more memorable moments from it?
CW- We were very proud as a club to make such a fantastic run in the USL2 playoffs. Obviously, we would have liked to have gone that extra step; however, it wasn't meant to be. With that, our goal this year is to go one step further. For the club, the people surrounded by the club, it was a huge achievement; it really put the club in the national spotlight which is what we wanted. We have many fantastic people at the club that work behind the scenes that nobody will know; one of the main reasons we were so successful was due to their commitment - It has created a buzz around the towns and internally at the club. Our hope is that this buzz will continue for the long term!
- This is the club's 12th appearance in the US Open Cup; how magical has this run been for the team knocking off a USL League 1 team in Charlotte?
CW- It really was an amazing achievement! Many will not know the difficulties of creating a roster in 2 months, having six training sessions together, 24-hour train rides (for players), canceled flights, and many more adverse moments in making this special environment we have! If I am honest, it is a testament to the players we have; the togetherness they have created in such a short time has been nothing short of amazing! Again, it comes down to the people! I can't speak more highly of Liam, my assistant, for the work he has done during this period of time; he is one of the most critical factors as to why we have won the games we have won! We know we have another tricky tie ahead, and we know it's close to impossible. However, we have a special something within this group of players; we have a belief and togetherness!
- Describe yourself as a coach. How do you usually look to play tactically, and how are you preparing yourself and your club for these cup games?
CW- I would say I am a very personable coach; I have the players' best interest at heart, it's not about me, and it never will be; it's about the players. What can we as a staff do to put the players in an environment to be as successful as possible. If we can do that, we have done our job! I would like to think that the guys know that, yet, when it's time to work, we work!
With regards to the tactical elements and preparation, it's tough. We have barely seen the teams we have played against; however for us, we try to concentrate on what we need to do in order to win a football match. We have specific KPI's (Key Performance Indicators) that we as a coaching staff know and believe in. If we hit those KPI's we are confident that we will win games.
- Who are some players that fans should watch for this upcoming game?
- Joao Gomiero - An Attacking Midfielder who scored in the previous round. Here is a short documentary on his daily life as a player [ Day in the life ]
- Tom Marriot - An Attacking Midfielder who has scored twice in the tournament so far
- Cristobal Molina - a Center Back that has trained in Sevilla youth academy
- In a recent article on US Soccer.com, you mentioned how this club plays "with a chip on its shoulder? Can you describe what that means to the culture of this club?
CW- It's who we are! From our youth club all the way through to the U23s. We discuss with the player about having a Warrior Mentality - which in essence, is what we are all about! Regardless of adverse situations and what is going on in our day-to-day life, we have to have a warrior mentality to get through. I would also say it's how we recruit our players. We are looking for hungry players who have been "passed by". Many of our players have had opportunities and trials at the clubs we are playing against! For some reason or other, they have been passed by. We understand the nature of professional football, and timing is everything. For our players, that motivation to show those coaches who have passed them by is such a driving force behind why our players need to play with a chip on their shoulders. We simply say to our players, "Show them! Show them why they should have picked you!" - For a player, having that motivation is a strong driving force behind some performances! We are not a glamorous club; we have a small budget, yet, we all believe in what we are doing, and the players believe. Having that chip on the shoulder mentality, togetherness, and belief, is powerful and something we will always strive to be!
We want to thank Coach Williams for talking to us about NC Fusion and what to expect from them in our upcoming US Open Cup Match. Wednesday games will mark the return of the US Open Cup to City Stadium since the tournament was postponed due to covid the past two years.