Prior to last Saturday's home finale, the Carolina RailHawks announced their team awards, citing five players for excellence during a rocky season that nonetheless ended with a 5-2-1 record over its last eight games, good for 16 points.
Probably the biggest surprise was the choice for Most Valuable Player: midfielder Matt Watson.
There’s never been any doubt about the young Englishman's talent, and in retrospect, Watson's ballhandling gifts, phenomenal footwork and, most importantly, steady field presence in the face of nagging injuries, were all a crucial bulwark for an erratically performing club. Here's a clip of Watson making a dazzling move past a defender and crossing to Rey Martinez for a goal.
Co-offensive players of the year were two South American wings, the dynamic, long-haired duo of Uruguay native Martin Nuñez and Argentina's (and N.C. State's) Santiago Fusilier. Second and third on the team in goals, respectively, both were live wires on the field and fan favorites. Fusilier displayed tenacity in chasing down balls in the corner and displayed a deadly foot from around the 18. Nuñez hit the goal that ’Hawks fans will savor through the off-season. (Click here for a great highlight involving the two, from the standing room-only July friendly against Los Rayados de Monterrey of Mexico).
At the center of an oft-maligned defense was steady captain Frankie Sanfilippo and he was accordingly named Defensive Player of the Year. The Unsung Hero award rightly went to Dan Antoniuk, who saw a huge drop in his goal production from a year ago when he was with Atlanta. Nonetheless, he proved himself a hardworking, selfless player at the top, appearing in all 30 games, laying off balls to others and creating chances. In the season's last month, he also developed an on-field rapport with fellow striker Hamed Diallo—a mid-season acquisition—who scored a team-leading seven goals in just 16 games.
By season's end, the team's core—particularly the above-named players—were developing a powerful chemistry. Nuñez and Watson, if not others, attracted attention this year as MLS prospects, but ’Hawks fans can only hope this nucleus will return for another season.
Watson, Antoniuk and Nuñez also distinguished themselves this season by appearing in the Indy's June fashion spread, which featured numerous Triangle athletes.
Also, on Monday the USL-1 announced that Diallo was the league player of the week, the final one for the 2008 season. Diallo scored two goals in against Charleston in the next-to-last game of the season. Nuñez and Sanfilippo joined Diallo on the league's team of the week.