CARY, N.C. – In terms of first impressions, Zach Steinberger’s of North Carolina FC’s fans after they welcomed him to the club this week following his loan from Indy Eleven was a very welcoming one.
So, on Saturday night in his debut for the club the attacking midfielder made a big first impression of his own as NCFC romped to a 6-2 victory against North Carolina Derby rival the Charlotte Independence.
With two goals and one assist, including a memorable first-half scissor kick and a second-half header that saw him head straight to the Oak City Brigade behind the goal, Steinberger found instant chemistry both with his new teammates, and the club’s support.
“I wanted to go celebrate with the fans,” said Steinberger. “They were great in welcoming me on social media, so I appreciated that. I’m glad I was able to help get a victory against a local rival.”
The victory was also an important one for North Carolina’s push to reach the USL Cup Playoffs as all four teams sitting ahead of it in the Eastern Conference standings dropped points on the night, allowing NCFC to move within a point of the top eight with nine games to go in the regular season. After the way the game began, with Charlotte both hitting the post and scoring the opening goal, it looked as though there was a chance the night might not go North Carolina’s way until Steinberger helped turn things around with a key passage early in the second half.
Having already leveled the game with his scissor-kick midway through the first half, Steinberger combined with Steven Miller for two goals in three minutes within six minutes of the second half kickoff. His play showed off the abilities NCFC Head Coach Colin Clarke had long-admired in the former PDL standout, even going back to when he was first drafted by the Houston Dynamo.
“When he was in Houston I knew about him and followed him, and then tried to sign him before he went back to Jacksonville the second time, but he was always going to go there because of a relationship,” said Clarke. “So, I just always knew he was a good player, having played against him and seen him score goals. He's a smart player, good player, good kid. So, when the opportunity arose, we thought we might be able to get him and we jumped at it.”
Steinberger’s brace was followed by another from NCFC leading scorer Daniel Rios, who threw his hat back into the ring for the USL Golden Boot as he scored his 14th and 15th goals of the season as the hosts pulled away in impressive fashion in the second half.
The night, though, belonged to the new guy, who has a heck of a first impression to live up to now as North Carolina makes its drive toward the postseason.
“To be in a game where we score six goals in my first game playing for the club; it’s a dream start,” said Steinberger. “Hopefully we can use this as a catalyst to carry that momentum and push into the playoffs.”