The Carolina RailHawks open the 2012 NASL playoffs Saturday evening at WakeMed Soccer Park when they face the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in a single-game quarterfinal showdown. Ardent RailHawks followers know that playoff soccer has produced some the most exciting matches in franchise history. The second leg of the 2010 semifinals against the Montreal Impact supplied Tom Heinemann’s late game-winner and a disallowed equalizer that prompted some Montreal players and staff to literally chase the game officials off the pitch. Then last year, Carolina fell in the semifinals to the Minnesota Stars in an epic, back-and-forth second leg in Cary that ended in a penalty shootout.

Before the 2012 second season begins, however, it’s worth looking back at the year’s worth of memorable soccer already generated by this cast of RailHawks. Most of these highlights (or lowlights, in a few instances) are whole games, and some are individual achievements. But in a season full of ups and downs (followed by more ups and downs), they’re all the product of a team that continues to surprise its supporters.

12. 6-0 win over PSA Elite in U.S. Open Cup—May 22

Normally, a lopsided victory over an outmatched opponent in front of sparse crowd wouldn’t be cause for fond recollection. However, it was the first competitive win for the RailHawks, and sometimes any victory, no matter the opponent, can be a catalyst for further success. That’s what happened with Carolina, which went on to win six of its next eight matches. Moreover, as I contended at the time, the wide gap between the consequences of losing and winning this match—including the chance to host the L.A. Galaxy the following week—made its outcome the most important in club history.