It's Thursday, Sept. 24, and the RailHawks playoff run begins tonight in Vancouver. Tune in at 10:30 p.m. to www.usllive.com for the Webcast, and/or follow the tweets from the RailHawks' Tim Candon @RailHawksFC. I published a short print preview in the Indy this week (with a great picture of Gregory Richardson during his dominating first-half performance against Puerto Rico).
We also heard coach Martin Rennie on 850 the Buzz yesterday. While it was great to hear the RailHawks featured on a local AM sports chat show, the quality of the interview was a little discouraging.
The host, David Glenn, averred that he'd been attending games and even mentioned that he himself is a coach of his kid's U-7 team. Unfortunately, he didn't ask Rennie a single tactical question, nor were any RailHawks players' names mentioned in the interview.
There was, however, a question about how Rennie's American wife, Amy, liked living in Scotland, but no question about the experience and quality Scottish Premier League veteran Greg Shields has brought to the back line. (Shields, by the way, was named to the 24th and final USL-1 team of the week and, remarkably, he's the 18th RailHawk so honored this season.)
After a discussion of soccer's potential for growth in America and an amusing recounting of Rennie's encounter with a water bottle in Montreal, Glenn inquired about the family friendliness of WakeMed Soccer Park. Rennie dutifully enumerated all of the children's activities available, along with the half-time shows and the promotional games. It was as if he was being asked to justify a night out to something intrinsically uninteresting—a soccer game.
Questions about Matthew Delicâte's subbing (or Matthew Watson's broken leg)? Nope. Questions about Rennie's strategy in a two-leg playoff? Nope. Questions about matching up with Vancouver's Charles Gbeke and Marlon James? Nope. Questions about the difficulty the RailHawks have in scoring on the road (more on that below)? Nada.
The whole interview was quite pleasant, and Glenn was genuinely enthusiastic and not condescending. I'm sure the RailHawks are happy to have the radio exposure, but we await more mature, sophisticated soccer coverage from the area's broadcast sports media. Rennie himself said on the program that increased media interest is key to soccer's growth in America--and he told the Indy's Chris Gaffney as much back in March: "To tell the truth, I hope that the press becomes critical here, because that means they're interested."
In our continuing effort to, ahem, do just that, we recently took a closer look at the RailHawks' road record against the six other teams in the playoffs. Although the RailHawks' overall road record is a strong 5-5-5, for 20 points in 15 games, the team has had more difficulty against the playoff teams. This is to be expected, of course, but we thought we'd look at the numbers.
The big number we see is four.
That's the number of goals the RailHawks have scored in 10 games on the road against the other six playoff teams. Those 10 road games have seen a result of two wins, four losses and four draws.
The kicker, though, is that the two wins and four draws amount to six decent results, despite only scoring four goals! (For the entire season, the RailHawks scored only 11 away goals, which places them behind only Miami—and it's one of the few categories in which the RailHawks have underperformed.)
What's clear is that defense on the road, as ever, will be crucial for the success of the RailHawks in the playoffs. Given the past performance, it's probably too much to expect much more than a grind-it-out result tonight in Vancouver.
Given the RailHawks' difficulty in scoring on the road, it's probably to the best that the USL-1 doesn't employ the away-goals tiebreaker. Perhaps in another year, when the RailHawks are more prolific on the road, the league will.
By the way, there are a few hours yet to take advantage of the RailHawks' 55-hour playoff ticket discount.
The RailHawks' road record versus Portland, Puerto Rico, Charleston
The RailHawks' road record versus Rochester, Montreal and Vancouver