WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARYIn the murky wilds of Cary, North Carolina, the Carolina RailHawks claimed the collective hide of the Rochester Rhinos with a 53rd-minute goal by Sallieu Bundu. The goal poacher from Sierra Leone gave the home fans a much-deserved reward for their consistent, if tepid exhortations. This 1-0 victory was the first time in six attempts that the ‘Hawks had been able to sink its talons into Rochester and now have maximum points from their first two league matches.

The goals should have been faster in coming and if not for the inspired play of longtime Rhinos netminder Scott Vallow, the second half would have been devoid of tension. Carolina dominated possession for much of the opening stanza and though the game had become choppy and increasingly violent by the end of the first half hour, it was clear that the crash of hyperborean Rhinoceros was lost in the Appalachian piedmont ecotome.

While dominating in possession, Carolina struggled to find clinical form inside the 18- and 6-yard boxes, squandering a beakful of chances.

Part of the trouble was the lack of support provided to lone runner Bundu by attacking central midfielder Plotkin, who remained anonymous throughout most of the half. His Rochester counterpart, the 5-foot-6 Johnny Menyongar, was well-marked out of the match by Amir Lowery, Jack Stewart and Mark Schulte, whose combined height gives the RailHawks 18 feet and 7 inches of defense in the middle of the park.

Rochester did not manage to sustain any possession at all until the 41st minute and their forward surge left them open for a swift counter that Paladini contrived to blunder when all signs pointed to a half-time advantage for the home side. It was an encouraging display, sullied only by a lack of crispness in front of goal and three yellow cards for the ‘HawksDevon McKenney’s coming on the stroke of halftime.

The second stanza opened with an attacking flurry that may have been inspired by the syncopated thrashings of the halftime tae kwon do performance. In the 47th minute, Vallow again came to the Rhinos’ rescue as he saved well from Gardner who profited from Bundu’s muscular efforts and delightful lay-off. In the 52nd, Plotkin made his presence known with a steal deep in the attacking half, and played Paladini into the box with Vallow well beaten. Yet a casual toepoke sent the ball against the post and back to the grateful keeper. It was only two minutes later that Bundu slashed into the 6-yard box to expertly turn in Gardner’s cross.

A frustrated crash of Rhinos is a dangerous thing. In the 56th, left midfielder Danny Earls came raging into Luke Kreamalmeyer from behind and received a straight red. This turned out to be the best thing possible for the visitors who took advantage of Carolina’s newly relaxed attitude to fashion several chances. Yet Carolina continued to have possession and created more good chances of their own, the best falling to Plotkin who flubbed a rolling ball past the far post with only gnats and oxygen to beat. The Hawks’ lack of precision in front of goal should have cost them at least two points in the 73rd and 82nd minutes as the looming Tai Atieno might have done better with a pair of free headers at the RailHawks’ back post.

The game became even more delicately balanced when RailHawks right back McKenney was shown his marching papers for a second bookable offense. There was some suspicion of softness about each of the cards he received, but the tone of the game had deteriorated to overt aggression towards the end. Rochester defender John Ball was shown a straight red in the 90th minute for unknown reasons, bringing the card total to six yellows and three reds. Carolina finished with an 11-1 advantage in corners, and 12-8 in shotsstrong indications of which side of the field most of the game happened.

The RailHawks look for an unprecedented third victory in a row next Sunday at 2 p.m. against the Minnesota Thunder, at WakeMed in Cary.

Here’s the official stat sheet. (Ed. Note: This stat sheet has at least one error, as did the sheet for the RailHawks’ game against the Thunder last week: The Rhinos’ Tiger Fitzpatrick did not play the full 90 minutes, but was taken off in the second half.)