There were reasons to miss last night's friendly between the Carolina RailHawks and last year's USL-1 champions, the Montreal Impact: It was sort of cold; there was a Wilco show in Durham; and there was college basketball (including what may turn out to be the final game of John Wall's NBA-mandated career as a student athlete).
Well, we went to WakeMed Soccer Park anyway and saw a few things worth seeing in the largely unremarkable 1-1 draw, including two more trialists in the starting XI:
JohnnyJoseph Ngwenya and Cory Elenio. The former is someone who's suited up for other RailHawks games this spring, but who has been unseen (by us, anyway) for a couple of weeks. He played the left wing for most of the game. (Gregory Richardson played 90 minutes Friday night against UNC and did not suit up for the Impact.)
The real new face, however, was Elenio, a burly-ish redhead who lined up at the right wing. Elenio spent the last two seasons under contract with the Columbus Crew, evidently without making a huge impact. He was cut by the Crew (Crew-cut?) on Tuesday, and immediately traveled to Cary to train with the RailHawks.
Last night, he was an active presence on the right, combining with Daniel Paladini, Josh Gardner, Andriy Budnyy and Ramak Safi to create good chances. The best one came in the 27th minute when Gardner sent a low cross in from the right and Elenio's right-footed volley went just over the crossbar.
Elenio made less of an impression in the second half, which RailHawks coach Martin Rennie attributed to fatigue. Judging from Elenio's strong effort in the first half, he appears to have made a case for becoming one of the RailHawks' attacking options this season.
With the major exceptions of Joey Gjertsen (now with the San Jose Earthquakes) and the 36-year-old Eddie Sebrango (who dressed but did not play), the Impact started a strong lineup very similar to the one that thrashed Vancouver over two legs last October for the USL championship. They looked very dangerous at times, but the RailHawks central defending trio of Mark Schulte, Matt Bobo and Amir Lowery consistently shut down the threats—as did goalkeeper Eric Reed.
It it hadn't been for the generosity of referee Saeed Mohamed, the game might have been an unremarkable 0-0 draw. In the 67th minute, Lowery was pulled down in the box as a Daniel Paladini free kick sailed in his direction. Mohamed pointed to the spot and was besieged by the imploring Impact. One Montreal player, perhaps imitating Fernando Torres' petulant gesture in a similar situation recently at Old Trafford, impacted up the penalty spot with his boot as Low made to place the ball.
Meanwhile, the West Stand got very loud but it had nothing to do with the prospect of the RailHawks getting a goal on the board. Instead, the mascot Swoopes came out right then and started tossing T-shirts, thus creating an odd spectacle in which dozens of screaming kids (and some adults) were looking in one direction while others of us watched Low's ball go low and left, making the score 1-0.
A few minutes later, second-half Impact sub Peter Byars split the RailHawks defense and made a beeline for the goal.
Schulte Gardner got a foot on the ball—and perhaps the ball of Byars' foot. ("None of us really argued with it," Reed said. " I think it was a fair call.") No RailHawk scuffed the penalty spot before Nevio Pizzolitto, one of half a dozen Italianate Impacters, kicked the ball Low-style and leveled the score at 1-1.
Last night's game wraps up the public preseason for the RailHawks, although two more weeks of training and trialing lie ahead of the April 10 season opener against AC St. Louis.
—Three RailHawks got caution cards: Paladini for encroaching on the 10-yard buffer on an indirect kick; Lowery for being Lowery; Budnyy for either dissent or scuffling down at the corner.
—The RailHawks' central defense looks solid, while the wing back situation is a little less settled. The versatile Low took the left back spot and proved to be a steady hand—and foot. On the right side, Safi seemed to struggle more than he did last week against the Revolution, perhaps because the Impact were attacking more aggressively. He looked most confident going forward with the ball and indeed, he helped create a couple of scoring chances. But he was also beaten badly by the Impact's Roberto Placentino and others on a few occasions.
—Reed made several marvelous stops, particularly during a period in the second half when Montreal had the better of the play. He also effectively parried questions about whether he'll be platooning with Nic Platter this year, as he did last year with Caleb Patterson-Sewell. "We're great friends, on and off the pitch. Our goal is to win a championship—it's not an individual thing."
—Rennie said several more people will arrive in the coming week, including Scottish defender Greg Shields, Maltese striker Etienne Barbara and Paul Ritchie. Ritchie, another Scottish defender, played briefly with the RailHawks last year before injuries caused him to quit the campaign. He will be coming to be an assistant coach, Rennie said. "He brought a lot last year, showed real leadership. He's got his coaching qualification and I'm really excited to have him here."
—Rennie also said he expected "one other name" to arrive in the coming week but did not elaborate.
—Striker Sainey Touray, who was hurt Friday night against UNC, is still hurt and will be evaluated again on Monday, Rennie said, sounding resigned to an extended period of recuperation for the Gambian's injured hamstring.
*Corrections made @ 11:55 p.m., March 28