- File photo by Jeremy M. Lange
- Once and future RailHawks: Jonny Steele, who played for the RailHawks in 2007, is seen here in a Puerto Rico uniform clashing with Cary mainstay Matt Watson, right, in a 2009 game.
The Carolina RailHawks released their 2011 preseason schedule Monday, along with revealing a number of new player signings. Together with perennial scrimmages against area college teams such as UNC-Wilmington (4 p.m. today at WakeMed Soccer Park) and UNC-Chapel Hill (March 29), the preseason is highlighted by four friendlies regional USL PRO sides, three of them to be played at WakeMed Soccer Park: Charleston Battery (March 19), Charlotte Eagles (March 23), and Wilmington Hammerheads (April 2). A March 26 match against the Richmond Kickers will take place in Richmond, Va.
We’ll save player analysis for a future post, once the roster comes into clearer focus. However, this week’s announcement demonstrates the first casualty of the United States Soccer Federation’s delay in sanctioning the new North American Soccer League (NASL).
For three consecutive preseasons, the RailHawks have scored friendlies at WakeMed Park against Major League Soccer clubs: the New York Red Bulls in 2007 and the New England Revolution in 2009 and 2010. In addition, Carolina hosted a 2009 preseason friendly against first-division Honduran side C.D. Olimpia, and last year the RailHawks hosted a well-received friendly against the Montreal Impact.
This year, no NASL club is hosting a preseason friendly against an MLS club except the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, who played a Saturday afternoon match against the Red Bulls on Feb. 26. The Impact and FC Edmonton are traveling to Casa Grande, Ariz., for scrimmages against various MLS teams. The other five NASL clubs are not currently scheduled to face any MLS or international clubs at all save FC Tampa Bay, which will meet BK Hacken from Allsvenskan, Sweden’s premier division, and that match will take place at the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers’ practice facility.
In contrast, Orlando City SC (formerly Austin Aztex) of USL PRO have already played the Philadelphia Union, FC Dallas, and Toronto FC in Orlando (and faced BK Hacken themselves last weekend). The Charleston Battery are currently hosting their annual Carolina Cup Challenge, with the Chicago Fire, D.C. United, and Toronto FC in attendance.
Many RailHawks supporters undoubtedly welcome renewing regional rivalries for the 2011 preseason. Still, while the matches against the Battery and Hammerheads are Saturday evening affairs, the game against Charlotte is a midweek, mid-afternoon encounter.
During the USSF sanctioning process, much rhetoric was devoted by NASL officials to the importance of Division 2 sanctioning as opposed to playing “down” to the D-3 level inhabited by USL PRO. The clear impression was that D-2 sanctioning gave the NASL a cachet not afforded by D-3 status.
Although RailHawks officials were teasing an MLS friendly as recently as two weeks ago, it is clear that the delay in NASL sanctioning, as well as the RailHawks’ own front office upheaval, made scheduling any MLS or international preseason friendly at WakeMed Park this year virtually impossible.
And the MLS preseason window is rapidly closing, at any rate. Their season begins Tuesday.