We’ve been away from the first-place RailHawks for a bit (and away from the Triangle, actually). To put a finer point on it, we’ve been in New York, we’ve been in Brazil, we’ve been distracted by things like European Champions League football (Messi! Eto’o! Xavi! Iniesta! Puyol!).

But we’re catching up in advance of Friday night’s nationally televised engagement with the Cleveland City Stars at WakeMed Soccer Park. First, we learn, courtesy of Tim Candon, the RailHawks’ official blogger, that their opponent in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup will be the USL-2 Richmond Kickers on Tuesday, June 9, at home. The ‘Hawks, it should be noted, lost a preseason friendly to the Kickers in Richmond. If they survive the Kickers, then the Round 2 opponent will be one of two other North Carolina sides: the Wilmington Hammerheads or the Charlotte Eagles, both of the USL-2. That game would be on June 16.

Also, word arrived yesterday afternoon that three RailHawks made the USL-1 team of the week: Andriy Budnyy, the Ukrainian striker who is finding more minutes on the pitch after an under-the-radar preseason; Daniel Paladini, who is emerging as a crucial midfield linchpin; and the redoubtable, versatile three-year club veteran Kupono Low, playing well whether he’s needed at left back or holding midfielder. Budnyy scored the opening goal in the team’s 3-0 blanking of Cleveland last week, while Paladini has two assists in that game and scored the sole goal on a PK in Sunday’s 1-0 victory over the Austin Aztex. Low, for his part, is a big reason why the RailHawks haven’t conceded a goal in three outings.

We’ll have more on the RailHawks tomorrow, but for the moment we’re looking for another replay of Barsa-ManUtd…