Objectively, the Carolina RailHawks had good reason to be encouraged with their season-opening draw with the Minnesota Stars last week. The RailHawks kicked off their 2012 campaign by going on the road to take on the defending NASL champions in front of over 8,000 of their supporters, and Carolina still came away with a point.
Unfortunately, the RailHawks didn’t pass the eye or stat test. The Stars dominated pace and possession, and they outshot Carolina by a whopping margin of 22-2. Only a stout defensive effort, led by seven saves from goalkeeper Ray Burse, salvaged a tie. Burse was named NASL Defensive Player of the Week for his effort.
Immediately after the game, RailHawks manager Colin Clarke credited both Burse and the Stars’ attack. He also referenced the difficulty the RailHawks faced “playing indoors on a so-so surface.”
Speaking this Thursday, Clarke offered a more sober assessment.
“We were disappointed in how we performed,” confessed Clarke. “The positives were we kept a clean sheet and defended well as a unit. We weren’t good enough with the ball going forward. We didn’t move off the ball well enough, so that’s what we’ve been working on this week.”
The RailHawks play their home opener this Saturday evening at 7 p.m. when they host the Atlanta Silverbacks at WakeMed Soccer Park. The Silverbacks also earned a scoreless draw in their season-opener against the San Antonio Scorpions last weekend in Atlanta. However, like Minnesota, the Silverbacks dominated the game statistically, outshooting San Antonio 11-5.
The Silverbacks, who finished at the bottom of the NASL table last season, added several key players in the offseason, including defender Martyn Lancaster, midfielder Tony McManus and 6-foot 3-inch Brazilian center back Rilla. And, Hungarian goalkeeper Daniel Illyes made four saves on his way to a clean sheet last week in his debut for Atlanta.
While midfielders Nico Colaluca and Danilo Turcios hope to add more punch in the attacking third, the Silverbacks’ striker situation is less stable. Matt Horth, last season’s team scoring leader, missed the San Antonio game with an injury and may not play against the RailHawks. And, former Canadian national team forward Stephen Ademolu hasn’t arrived in camp yet. Look for 33-year-old Chilean forward Reinaldo Navia, who played limited minutes last Saturday after arriving in Atlanta the day before, to figure more in the Silverbacks’ attack against Carolina.
According to Clarke, the improved Silverbacks side is indicative of improvements made across the league.
“I look around and Edmonton is getting better,” observes Clarke, “Minnesota won last year, Tampa will be just as good, Fort Lauderdale signed some good players, and Atlanta will definitely be better.”
As for the RailHawks, Clarke says it’s “possible” there will be changes made to the starting lineup sent out against Minnesota. Although Clarke would not elaborate on specifics, recent acquisition and former New York Red Bulls and D.C. United midfielder Austin da Luz has impressed in camp and scrimmages, and he could provide a spark for the RailHawks’ dormant offense. Clarke may also look more to holding midfielder Chris Nurse, who played for Clarke two years ago in Puerto Rico. However, any changes are unlikely to include the backline, which kept a clean sheet against Minnesota and is playing without much depth at the moment.
Regardless, Clarke looks forward to both a sizable crowd at WakeMed Park as well as watching his team continue to develop and, hopefully, get their first win of the season.
“I believe we have a lot of talent on the team,” Clarke says. “The biggest thing is they have to become a team. They have to want to die for each other and make each other better and be unselfish.
“It’s still a young team and a team coming together, but we know we can play better.”