At a training session Monday in Cary, N.C., the L.A. Galaxy are racing into their U.S. Open Cup match against the Carolina RailHawks
  • Neil Morris
  • At a training session Monday in Cary, N.C., the L.A. Galaxy are racing into their U.S. Open Cup match against the Carolina RailHawks

WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—On January 27, 1968, Leeds United—then one of the elite clubs in English football—visited lowly Derby County—then mired near the bottom of the Second Division—in the Third Round of the 1967-68 FA Cup. As dramatized in the 2009 film The Damned United, Derby manager Brian Clough spent the run-up to the match pruning the pitch, spit shining the loos and otherwise preparing to welcome “proper footballers.”

Another group of proper footballers rolled into Cary today as the L.A. Galaxy—defending MLS champions and the most popular club in American club soccer—arrived to prepare for a Tuesday evening tangle against the Carolina RailHawks—currently mired at the bottom of the Second Division NASL table—in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

And like the cinematic depiction of Clough and company huddled around the radio and yelping with glee when the home draw against Leeds was announced—”It’s Leeds! It’s Leeds!”—the front office of the Carolina RailHawks has spent the past week completing new grandstands, reconfiguring parking and traffic patterns, enjoying heightened local and national media attention and selling out the game at WakeMed Soccer Park in a matter of hours.

However, the Galaxy side that takes on the RailHawks will be missing many of its most familiar faces. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are away on international call-up, and the Galaxy finally disclosed yesterday that David Beckham would not be making the trip to Cary.

Edson Buddle

A number of other first-teamers were also absent from a humid training session held midday Monday on the pristine pitch of Field 6 at WakeMed Park, including Juninho, A.J. DeLaGarza and Sean Franklin. The most notable player present was erstwhile U.S. international Edson Buddle, who did not participate in the hour-long practice but is available for Tuesday’s match.

“We know it’s a tough environment to play against,” Buddle concedes. “I heard there’s going to be a few more people at the game than normal. I expect a good, competitive match.”

However, striker Chad Barrett believes the early rounds of the Open Cup provide the perfect chance for raw, rested and ready players to show their skills.

“The Open Cup is a great opportunity for players who haven’t been able to play so much, even me, to get in there and show that I deserve to be starting with the regular team,” says Barrett.

“There’s a bunch of guys that were drafted this year, second-year players and some veterans who play reserve games together and like playing together. And that’s pretty much what’s going to get put out there, the reserve team and second team. And, we’re going to come out flying against them, I feel like. I played against the RailHawks a few years ago, and they’re a bunch of fighters. We’re expecting a very hard-fought match.”

Besides Buddle and Barrett, other players dressing out for Los Angeles tomorrow will include midfielders Mike Magee and Michael Stephens and forward Pat Noonan.

Motivation—both real and imagined—will not be a problem for the visitors. Barrett readily recalls the last time he faced the RailHawks, then as a member of the Chicago Fire. Chicago traveled to Cary for the Third Round of the 2007 U.S. Open Cup and were defeated by Carolina 1-0, the year the RailHawks advanced to the semifinals of the tournament. During his interview, Buddle twice mistakenly referenced also losing to the RailHawks in 2007, when the Galaxy was actually eliminated from the Open Cup that year by the Richmond Kickers a game before they would have visited Cary to face Carolina.

Still, the Galaxy’s debut in this year’s Open Cup will be the team’s fourth game in 11 days, the last being three days ago in the 90-degree heat of Houston. Speaking Monday, it seemed the Galaxy and head coach Bruce Arena possessed merely a general knowledge about their opponent.

L.A. Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena

“I think Colin Clarke is a very good coach,” says Arena. “I know a few of the players—I remember [Zack] Schilawski at New England, the goalkeeper Ray Burse, a few other players—but not a whole lot about them. My experience with these teams is that they’re always good, competitive teams. They want to show they belong on the field, and they often do show that.”

One member of the Galaxy quite familiar with the RailHawks and their supporters is goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. An accomplished keeper and prolific time-waster, Gaudette played three seasons under Clarke with the Puerto Rico Islanders before an injury-shortened season with the Montreal Impact in 2011. This year, he returned to MLS for the first time since 2007.

“It’s good to be back [in Carolina] and see some old faces,” says Gaudette. “Obviously, I know Colin [Clarke] very well; we have some great history and won some championships together. It’ll be nice to see the boys. But tomorrow night it’s a game and we know they’ll be a difficult opponent.”

Gaudette’s memory even extends to the ribbing he once regularly received from RailHawks’ supporters.

Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Perk in training Monday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary
  • Neil Morris
  • Galaxy goalkeeper Brian Perk in training Monday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary

“If I get the start tomorrow I think they’ll remember me,” Gaudette predicts. “But either way it’ll be a pleasure because I like to hear soccer in this town doing well. Cary has a great tradition and history, and the RailHawks have a good ownership group and obviously a great coach in Colin Clarke, who I respect dearly.”

As the Galaxy players were going through their paces, the RailHawks were finishing their Monday training session beyond the tree line on Field 4. Unlike their opponent, Carolina has not played in a week, giving them time to both rest and prepare for the formidable task at hand.

According to midfielder Amir Lowery, however, Carolina’s focus has been on themselves, not their opposition.

“We’ve been trying to fine tune the things we’ve been working on the last few months,” he says. “Coming together, finding a rhythm, creating and taking our chances, and cleaning up the defensive miscues we’ve had.

“We have a lot of talent, a lot of guys who played in MLS. We’re not necessarily strangers to that level, so we’re not afraid of anybody.”

Kickoff between the Railhawks and Galaxy is 7 p.m. Fans are being encouraged to arrive early for the game due to increased traffic entering WakeMed Soccer Park.