WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/CARYOne can always gauge the attendance figures by looking at the “kids tunnel” that forms to welcome the referees and players onto the field. Last night there were 40 kids and an official attendance of 2,138. On the bright side there were two pantomime cows, Swoops, and several dozen dogs, as it was “Bark in the Park Night,” a howler of an idea. I am looking forward to explaining this to my students in Brazil. The hilarious bit was that the cows put their hands over their hearts for the national anthem, though I’m not sure they got the anatomy right.

The Austin Aztex are in their first year of USL-1 competition and are having a rough go of it. This young team has lost a number of close games, given up leads late in games, been docked points for ineligible players and been hit by a spate of injuries that have kept them floating at the bottom of the table. The RailHawks, coming off a 4-0 thrashing of Miami and a week of rest, took full advantage of the Texan debutantes.

The warning bells sounded as early as the fourth minute as the incising Kabwe teed up Bundu inside the box, but his volleyed shot flashed just past the right post. The Hawks looked comfortable in their 4-1-4-1 formation, with Brad Rusin filling in for the suspended Amir Lowery and Brian Plotkin taking over for the also-suspended Daniel Paladini in the center of midfield. Rusin used his 6-foot-4 frame to stifle Aztex forays through the center and on a number of occasions turned defense into attack with ease. The Aztex were content to lump balls over the midfield and hope to get bodies forward in support.

Through 15 minutes of action, the loudest cheers were for Swoops as he ambled about the stadium throwing T-shirts. Then the ball gravitated to the left wing and Gregory Richardson. On one foray down the sideline, Austin’s right back Gareth Evans was so turned around by Richardson’s moves that he ended up with his shirt on backwards. It actually is comical to watch and is good practice for developing sympathy for the defeated.

A brief history of the 16th – 39th minutes: Plotkin bounces a shot left of goal after good possession, home-boy and UNC grad Micheal Callahan has some horror touches before spraying some nice balls around, John Gilkerson loses possession twice before releasing Richardson on a counter, he dribbles the whole team, lays off to Joseph Kabwe who misses, collective moan, Azetx manage to build, get cross into the looming Noel-Williams who gets a free header but can’t hit the target, Callahan gets more involved, some dogs bark, pantomime cows encourage chicken consumption.

In the 40th, Richardson breaks free again, pulls the pants off a few defenders and ties their shoelaces together before crossing for Kabwe, who errs on his first touch but finds the back of the net with his second. 1-0 just before halftime.

By the second half the RailHawks were well and warmed to the task and put Austin to the sword early. The Aztex were only able to threaten when bodies hit the floor around the penalty box, but nothing dangerous ever resulted. Carolina almost scored in the 55th minute on a training ground free kick. Plotkin bent a beautiful ball over the defense, Rusin headed onto Mark Schulte, who pinged his redirected header off the post.

The Hawks were stringing four, five, six, 10 passes together at times and Austin looked ready for bed. Richardson was less effective pantsing his defenders on the right side of the field but was still putting on a good show. The second goal was a bit later in coming than it should have been, but it came in the 69th minute. A free kick into the box, Schulte heads down, Sallieu Bundu runs on, it dribbles off his knee into the goal. Not pretty, but they all count.

The Aztex rallied briefly, wasting a free header at the back post int he 71st minute. They were put to the sword with the best ever goal that never was. In looking at my game notes, there are so many lines and players involved that it is beyond full description. Five passes, five players, five touches, one shot, just wide. The baying of canines at the gates must have terrified the visitors.

By the 86th and the third goal it was well and truly over. Kupono Low started the counter to Luke Kreamalmeyer, who raced down the right before sliding the ball left across the six yard box for Andriy Budnyy who lunged to poke it in. What appeared an easy run out for the home side could have been very different, but it wasn’t and as a fan, you’ve got to like that.

Seven goals for, none against in the last two home games. There are always plenty of things to criticize about a team: who loses possession too easily, or who doesn’t join in the attack enough up the left flank, or who is prone to foul around the box, but when you look at the results and the kind of soccer that’s being played, those criticisms are better left for old curmudgeons.

This week the Hawks travel to Rochester for a Wednesday match. This can be seen on USLLive.com and should be a physical battle in a tough place to win. They return home for a Saturday match against Cleveland.

Box score here.