WEB/EDMONTON—Following last Wednesday’s second-half collapse to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, during which the winless Carolina RailHawks twice surrendered two-goal leads on their way to a 3-3 home draw, manager Colin Clarke made the obvious observation that Carolina’s defense is giving up too many goals.
“I’ve got to look at some things and make some decisions,” Clarke promised.
After presumably taking a look at some things, Clarke’s first decision was to submit the same starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s bottom bowl at also-winless FC Edmonton. The result, expectantly, was also the same: Shaun Saiko notched a second-half hat trick to propel Edmonton to a 3-0 victory, the Eddies’ first of the season.
Meanwhile, the RailHawks (0-4-3, 4 points) drop to the bottom of the NASL table, despite having completed two more games than all but a couple of other league clubs.
Playing on the CFL-certified turf of Clarke Stadium, the RailHawks held much of the possession during the first half. However, key giveaways and a lack of forward support kept Carolina from mounting any real scoring threat. Zack Schilawski was positioned up top as the lone striker, and too often he would gather the ball only to have no immediate attacking help.
It only took 30 minutes for Carolina’s chronic defensive woes to rear their heinous head. First, Edmonton launched a breakaway when center back Sam Stockley fell while trying to mark his man. Cory Elenio, starting at right back, caught up from behind to clear away the trouble. Then, in the 33rd minute, John Krause was bossed on a dribble drive by Yashir Pinto. Only a save by goalkeeper Ray Burse prevented a certain score.
Krause blew an unmarked header off a Carolina corner in the 39th minute. After the RailHawks squandered a few more opportunities, Stockley failed to get a boot on a Matthew Lam cross in the 45th, allowing Pinto another shot that Burse again saved.
After intermission, the RailHawks squandered a couple of seemingly surefire chances. First, Schilawski found himself on ball in the box with only one opponent between him and the goal(keeper). However, Schilawski appeared to pause for reinforcements, allowing the defender to dispossess him and scuttle the threat. Then, in the 53rd minute, a mad scramble in front of the RailHawks’ goal supplied the visitors several chances, the best being a sitter that Mike Palacio failed to put away.
With the wind literally at their backs, Edmonton had seen enough. In the 55th minute, Stockley gave the ball away near midfield with a lazy lateral pass. Saiko took control and drove ahead to the 30-yard line, where he uncorked a blast that caught a trade wind and sailed over Burse’s fingertips into the upper netting.
Four minutes later, Saiko struck again. Chris Nurse lost a jump ball near midfield, giving Edmonton possession and numbers. An unmarked Saiko took the ball on the left flank and delivered a 20-yard curler that rounded Burse and landed back post to give Edmonton a 2-0 lead.
Krause allowed another through ball behind the back line in the 76th minute that was only stopped by Burse rushing out 20 yards in front of goal. But in the 81st minute, Nurse toppled Lam in the box for a penalty. Saiko converted from the spot to give him a hat trick and FC Edmonton their first win of the year.
“It’s tough one to take,” said Carolina’s Amir Lowery. “We had the better of possession in the first half and let it slip away … The cohesion hasn’t been there for us. We have the talent to put it together, we just have to keep working.”
Only six (!) saves by Burse kept the score from spiraling more out of hand, particularly near the end of full time when the RailHawks seemed to be merely going through the motions. Still, the statistics are sobering. In seven games, Carolina has now allowed a league-worst 15 goals and at least 96 shots. The RailHawks are now just two games short of the 2008 franchise record of nine consecutive matches without a win. And with their next four matches being against second-place Minnesota Stars FC twice and first-place Puerto Rico Islanders twice, Carolina is staring at the real possibility of going at least 11 games into the season without a victory.
Any further discussion about the RailHawks’ need for change and the form those changes must take risks sounding like the proverbial broken record, one nobody in authority apparently has in their collection. With Carolina’s next game being Saturday, May 12 at Minnesota, there’s plenty of time for that article to be written. In the meantime, suffice it to repeat the old adage—with a head nod to @amyfeegarner—that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.