Carolina RailHawks Akira Fitzgerald

WEBCAST—The Carolina RailHawks entered their opening match of the 2013 NASL regular season full of vigor on offense and anxiety on defense. However, the opposite proved true against the Tampa Bay Rowdies Saturday night at “Progress Energy Park, home of Al Lang Field” in St. Petersburg, Fla. As the RailHawks’ midfield struggled all evening against a spry Rowdies side, it fell to Carolina’s back line and goalkeeper to preserve a 0-0 road draw in front of 4,232 rowdy Rowdies partisans.

After unveiling their 2012 NASL Championship placard and with former NASL Best XI goalkeeper Jeff Attinella (now with Real Salt Lake) in attendance, the Rowdies totally controlled play throughout the game, outshooting the RailHawks 17-6. An apparent Jay Needham goal in the 16th minute was nullified due to offsides. An on-target free kick by Luke Mulholland in the 30th minute was saved by a leaping Akira Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald proved solid in goal for Carolina throughout the game and earned seven saves, including a diving fingertip deflection of an Amani Walker header in the 38th minute.

The RailHawks opened the match with a midfield of Floyd Franks, Austin Da Luz and Nick Millington, leaving Ty Shipalane on the bench until he came on in the 72nd minute. Shipalane got loose in the box in the 84th minute, but he was knocked off the ball before unleashing a shot.

Along with Fitzgerald, the most impressive RailHawks performance was defender Paul Hamilton in his club debut. Hamilton made a terrific slide tackle from behind to save of a goal-scoring opportunity in the 26th minute and was a force in the air throughout. However, two yellow cards in the final 10 minutes sent off the 25-year-old Canadian, who will now be unavailable for next Saturday’s home opener against FC Edmonton, Hamilton’s former team.

While the RailHawks’ performance was subpar, the team nevertheless earned a point during their lone visit to St. Petersburg during the league’s Spring Season. With the other two NASL opening weekend games also ending in draws, every team will enter the second weekend’s competition on equal footing.

“After a slow start in the first half, I thought we responded well in the second and worked hard for the point,” said RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke in a team statement. “To come away with a point on the road moves us forward and our defense was a big part of that tonight. Akira (Fitzgerald) and Paul (Hamilton) had great performances in the back for us tonight.”

The RailHawks hosts FC Edmonton next Saturday, April 13 at WakeMed Soccer Park. Kickoff is 7 p.m.