WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—Facing the prospect of the first four-match home losing streak in club history, it was all boots on deck for the Carolina RailHawks. The long-awaited arrival of Nacho Novo—check. The short-term loan acquisition of a Major League Soccer striker in Devon Sandoval from Real Salt Lake—check. Prying Zack Schilawski away from his law school studies for a few hours—check.
Indeed, all three players saw action against the NASL-leading San Antonio Scorpions Saturday evening at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. However, it was a different trio of RailHawks who scaled the scoring column to pace Carolina to a pivotal 3-1 victory over the Scorpions.
“It was a great results,” said RailHawks manager Colin Clarke. “We’ve had our troubles at home the last few games, But if we’re going to be successful this season we have to win our home games. I thought it was a great response tonight under a little bit of pressure.”
On cue, one of Carolina’s new additions sounded a new attacking tone less than a minute into the match. Out of the opening kickoff, a through ball was played forward to Sandoval, who started as the center striker. Sandoval blazed a trail through the Scorpions’ back line and delivered a cross through the box that ended up far post at the feet of Ty Shipalane. Shipalane’s shot impacted the side netting. However, Sandoval’s instant threat signaled a confidence that the RailHawks have been sorely lacking throughout the NASL fall campaign.
The 3,193 fans in attendance also saw the return of Cesar Elizondo to WakeMed Soccer Park. Carolina traded Elizondo to San Antonio last month for Danny Barrera. Elizondo got the start for the Scorpions, however Barrera, who was slated to also start for Carolina, arrived to the park feeling ill, and Clarke decided to hold him out of the match.
In Barrera’s place, Clarke inserted Nazmi Albadawi, at times this year a mainstay in the RailHawks starting XI who has seen his minutes slightly diminish as of late. Moreover, Albadawi was asked to leave his normal holding midfield position and push into the attacking midfield spot that Barrera occupies.
That move paid dividends starting in the 24th minute. With the Scorpions defenders paying more attention to Sandoval, Shipalane and Enzo Martinez, Shipalane played a ball ahead to Albadawi near the outside corner of the 18-yard area. Albadawi maneuvered around center back Julius James and then found space between two other defenders just inside the center of the box, where he cut loose a left-footed blast that sailed past Saunders for a 1-0 lead.
“It was a great first-time ball by Ty,” Albadawi said. “He played a great one-time ball in behind me, and I was able to turn the defender. I was running across the box, Devon made a good run and took his defender with him, and I was able to place [the shot] in the corner.”
Leo Osaki again got a start for the RailHawks, and he struggled to maintain consistent passing and possession for 60 minutes of the match. However, the 23-year-old Japanese-born midfielder made his positive contribution in the 61st minute. After drawing James out toward midfield, Sandoval played a short pass ahead to Albadawi, who had gotten behind the Scorpions defense. Albadawi drove toward goal with only one defender in front of him, then laid the ball off to Osaki streaking ahead even with the left post. Osaki caught up to the ball just before an outrushing Saunders, then took a chip shot with the outside of his right foot that found the net.
San Antonio got a goal back in the 73rd minute. Stephen DeRoux delivered a cross off the left wing that a leaping Daniel Scott managed to clip back toward the center of the box. Waiting there was forward Tomasz Zahorski, who powered a half volley past a helpless Akira Fitzgerald to cut the score to 2-1.
However, instead of parking the bus, the RailHawks continued to play steady defense while looking for strategic attacks. In the 87th minute, Martinez blasted a shot from 20 yards out that Saunders deflected back outside the box. Shipalane caught up to the ball and played a one-touch back-heel pass to Sandoval, who turned and fired his own shot. Saunders made another wonderful save of Sandoval’s seemingly sure goal, but with a stationary James declining to get into the mix, Martinez was left alone to head the ball back into the open net for the final 3-1 tally.
Scorpions manager Alen Marcina, an incessant spectacle of gesticulation at the match officials throughout the game, said he didn’t think Sandoval caused him team problems. He also said a few individual errors cost San Antonio a deserved result.
“I do feel we were the better team,” Marcina insisted. “We dominated possession and created better opportunities, and when you create better opportunities you’re usually winning games. But hats off to [the RailHawks], they put away the limited opportunities they did create.”
A review of the officials game stats, however, reveals that the RailHawks held 51 percent of possession. The RailHawks outshot the Scorpions 19-13, and as far as “better opportunities” are concerned, Carolina put seven shots on-target to six for San Antonio. The RailHawks also had more corner kicks (5-2) and more throw-ins (18-17).
Carolina’s win, coupled with losses by the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers, again vaults the RailHawks back into fourth place in the NASL yearly combined standings. With only seven games remaining in the regular season, the RailHawks return to action next Saturday, Sept. 20 when they host the New York Cosmos. Sandoval may be in the final match of his tentatively two-game loan stint, and Novo—who came on for the waning minutes of Saturday’s win—will have a full week of training with his new team.
For the time being, the RailHawks are left to bask in a result that Clarke described using a word that hasn’t been heard much following the team’s recent home results: Fun.
“In some ways, we’ve let ourselves down at home the last few games,” Clarke said. “If we had our usual wins, we’d be sitting in a very comfortable position. We’re not, so now we have to step up and show some character and fight through some adversity, which isn’t a bad thing … They know that every game is a must-win situation, and next week will be just the same.”