WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—The 1,597 fans who showed up on the relatively mild evening saw an extraordinary sight: a soccer game with the preposterous score of 9-0.
That's right. 9-0. The RailHawks' match against playoff contender Miami FC Blues wasn't a baseball game, but a soccer game.
But the lopsided result has us reaching for non-soccer comparisons: Perhaps the time the Chicago Bears won the NFL Championship (in pre-Super Bowl days) with a 73-0 win. Or perhaps if one were to go fishing and have fish hit your lure on every single cast.
But if we stick to soccer analogies, the RailHawks' absolute dominance was reminiscent of some of Barcelona's games last season, particularly the first half of their return leg against Real Madrid last May. Like Barça, so dominant were the RailHawks that the goal seemed to be a magnetic field for the ball, and on a couple of occasions the RailHawks nearly walked the ball into the back of the net.
Joseph Kabwe led all scorers (there's a basketball construction) with three goals, while Sallieu Bundu chipped in a late brace. Also scoring: Daniel Paladini, John Cunliffe, Andriy Budnyy and Gregory Richardson.
The first 30 minutes were scoreless, but the game was chippy and slow. Miami seemed exhausted and perhaps demoralized—they'd just come off a brutal Saturday-Sunday road trip to Portland and Vancouver, losing by an aggregate of 5-1. Early on, the RailHawks' left back Kupono Low took a nasty shot from Miami's Allen Marcina and was later drawn into a couple of finger-pointing tussles while Miami's Walter Ramirez and John Pulido picked up yellow cards in the 17th and 23rd.
In the 30th minute, the game changed. Edwin Miranda fouled Paladini at the top of the box. Miami was slow setting up its wall, and the whistle blew.
"I asked for 10 yards, and the referee backed them up and blew the whistle," Paladini said. "And Kupono was like 'Take it, take it, take it.'"
While Paladini skipped over to the home stand, doing the rocking-baby motion and revealing his Christian allegiance hand-printed on his undershirt, Miranda was barking at referee Tony Crush about the quick whistle. Out came the red card. Miranda continued to argue bitterly, forcing the referee to run to the fourth official so that Miranda would follow him. A slightly befuddled-looking Cary police officer stepped forward as if to offer his services. Miranda left the field.
As it turns out, Miranda and Paladini go way back. "I played college [at Cal State-Northridge] with him," Paladini said. "He caused the free kick, so he was already upset about that, and then we took it quick and scored, and he must have said something to the ref. He's [normally] a very quiet guy."
I had my head in my notes (see * below) when John Cunliffe struck from distance six minutes later. 2-0. Budnyy scored four minutes later, and then, in the 43rd, his ball to Richardson trickled past Miami's hapless keeper Patrick Hannigan, bounced lightly off the far post and was tapped in by Richardson.
The Miami defense was in a state of paralysis by this point. A bad pass in the backcourt (basketball again) was stolen by Richardson, who dished to Budnny, whose shot was deflected back to Kabwe, who got the slam in the 44th.
Five goals in 14 minutes, and it was 5-0 at the half.
Miami made halftime substitutions and reorganized themselves enough to stop the bleeding for the first 31 minutes of the second half.
But in the 76th, the ravenous RailHawks went on another feeding frenzy (do birds of prey engage in feeding frenzies?). Kabwe scored twice on assists from Richardson and Bundu in the 76th and the 80th, before Bundu scored in the 85th, in which he dribbled the ball laterally along the byline right up to Hannigan and tapped it in and, finally, the 87th, on an assist from Watson.
By then, fans were already leaving, some shaking their heads, while others were calling for the RailHawks to break double digits. Miami coach Zinho—who was a member of Brazil's Romario-led 1994 World Cup championship team—never stopped shouting instructions to his players.
For his part, RailHawks coach Martin Rennie suggested that the output tonight was a case of the RailHawks coming home to roost: "it was one of those games where so many of our chances went in. If you look at all the games we've played here, we've had loads of chances that we haven't taken. I've always said that if you create chances you will eventually score them. I think Miami, once we got started scoring, mentally fell out of it."
*Such a crazy game, so many goals. I had to make three corrections to the goal sequences after seeing the video.