Austin da Luz and his RailHawks teammates celebrate his goal during Carolinas 2-1 victory over FC Edmonton in Cary, N.C.
  • Rob Kinnan
  • Austin da Luz and his RailHawks teammates celebrate his goal during Carolina’s 2-1 victory over FC Edmonton in Cary, N.C.

WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/CARY—After a preseason that included friendlies against MLS and Liga MX competition—the latter setting a new club attendance record—it seemed a bit anticlimactic for the Carolina RailHawks to host a ribbon-cutting Saturday night christening the New WakeMed Soccer Park™ prior to the team’s NASL home opener against FC Edmonton. But, with a transition from the past (both recent and distant) the distinct backdrop of the evening, the RailHawks downed FC Edmonton 2-1 for Carolina’s first win of the 2013 regular season.

Coming off a lackluster performance during a road draw against Tampa Bay last weekend, the RailHawks was clearly looking forward to the roomy, well-manicured confines of home. Ty Shipalane made his 2013 return to the starting XI, and the attention he drew opened up the rest of the field for his teammates.

Still, it took a half of football for Carolina to get their bearings. In the interim, Edmonton sought to strike first in the 16th minute when forward Daniel Fordyce unleashed two shots, the first caroming off the woodwork.

In the 25th minute, Carolina started to pick up possession and forward momentum. Off a corner kick, an Austin da Luz shot was blocked to Brian Shriver, who directed his left-footed follow right of goal. In the 35th, Shriver dropped a ball off to Shipalane, whose one-touch angled shot in the box flew wide left.

Coming out of intermission, Carolina was forced to sub out defender Julius James, making his RailHawks debut, after yet another aggravation of a hamstring problem that has hampered James throughout training camp. With Paul Hamilton serving a one-game suspension, Carolina inserted 36-year-old Greg Shields at center back.

Despite this defensive disruption, the RailHawks seized control of the scoreboard in the 52nd minute after Shipalane single-handedly facilitated a break towards goal. After receiving a ball back from Shriver, Shipalane delivered a precise cross off the right flank to da Luz lunging far post. Putting shoulder to sphere, da Luz willed the ball into the back of net for the 1-0 lead.

“It was a fantastic ball from Ty,” da Luz said. “Now that I’ve been playing out wide I’ve been concentrating on getting into the box a little bit more and trying to get on the end of things. I got my shoulder on it—you’ve got to get something on it, put it towards goal and good things will happen.”

In the 60th minute, Edmonton forward Michael Cox—who gave Carolina’s back line fits until he came off in the 73rd minute—turned and launched a shot that clanged off the left post. A minute later, an odd sequence of events occurred when Cox collided with out-rushing RailHawks’ keeper Akira Fitzgerald. Referee Ted Unkel showed Cox a yellow card followed by a red card. Confusion immediately ensued, and with the home crowd roaring Edmonton’s apparent loss of a man, Unkel waved off his red, realizing that it was Cox’s first yellow card of the game, not his second.

After withstanding a renewed Edmonton push, Carolina registered their second score in the 71st minute. After da Luz was fouled about 20 yards from goal, Shriver stepped up to take the free kick. The former Tar Heel calmly launched the ball up and over the wall and into the left-upper netting past Eddies’ goalkeeper Lance Parker.

“I’ve been practicing it in training,” Shriver said. “It was a good spot for a right footer. I tried to hit it with some pace, get it up and down over the wall and under the crossbar.”

Edmonton nearly got a goal back in the 85th minute when Antonio Rago uncorked a blast that was blocked away by Fitzgerald. An offsides Shaun Saiko deposited the rebound for a goal that was waived off.

Akira Fitzgerald skies against FC Edmonton at WakeMed Soccer Park
  • Rob Kinnan
  • Akira Fitzgerald skies against FC Edmonton at WakeMed Soccer Park

Edmonton registered their lone goal of the match during stoppage time. After a throw-in that was dummied ahead by two Eddies, Sadi Jalali took possession and drove into the box before laying the ball off to an umarked Massimi Mirabelli, who converted the sitter to account for the final margin.

“I thought the best team lost tonight,” claimed FC Edmonton gaffer Colin Miller. “Probably the man of the match again tonight was the goalkeeper [Akira Fitzgerald]. We had a goal disallowed—I haven’t seen it yet to know whether it was offsides or not. I’m very proud of the players; I thought they contributed a great deal over 90 minutes. Two defensive errors cost us, and that was the difference.”

Video replay allays any doubt that Saiko was offsides on Edmonton’s disallowed goal. And, RailHawks’ Colin Clarke would disagree that the better team failed to get the points.

“I just felt that if we kept our patience and were smart defensively that we’d get chances,” Clarke said. “And we needed to be a little sharper in the final third take one of those chances. We did that in the second half with two good goals.

“The chances they created in the first half were down to us giving the ball up in bad areas and counterattacks. But, for the most part we possessed well and moved it well and looked the more likely to score.”

The news wasn’t all rosy for the RailHawks. Along with James’ recurring hamstring injury, Clarke revealed that Nicholas Addlery will undergo surgery this Monday for a knee injury he suffered against Tampa Bay last week. His estimated recovery time will be 3-4 weeks. Also, any timetable for Nick Zimmerman’s return from his own knee injury suffered while on trial with Sporting KC remains unclear, although Clarke cryptically indicated there may be further news on that front sometime this week.

Nevertheless, this the first time Carolina has won their regular season home opener since 2010. And after the RailHawks’ nine-game winless skid to begin last season, getting off the schneid early this year is a welcome relief.

Some of the 5,033 in attendance Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park, presented without further explanation or comment
  • David Fellerath
  • Some of the 5,033 in attendance Saturday night at WakeMed Soccer Park, presented without further explanation or comment

Da Luz says the change is partly due to a new attitude around the team.

“We’ve made it a point to be a little more positive and have a little bit more unity,” da Luz said. “Everybody gets along great, from the staff on down. So, it’s a fun place to be right now. Everyone’s enjoying their soccer.”

Yet, less than a month removed from setting that record attendance against Pumas de la UNAM, it seemed RailHawks officials were hoping for a bigger crowd than the 5,033 in attendance Saturday evening, the second-lowest of all the 2013 NASL home openers. However, any disappointment over that number is only a sign of the progress and consequential raised expectations around the club. Indeed, it’s the largest attendance for a RailHawks’ regular season home opener since 2008.

The RailHawks (1-0-1, 4 pts.) remain in Cary next Saturday, April 20 when it hosts the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. It will be the last home match until May 11.

“Three points is what we try to do every single time we go out here,” Shriver said. “You can’t give up points here. You can afford on the road to get draws, but when you’re at home you gotta win.”