Shaking off a lackadaisical start to a campaign that had seen them garner only five points from five games, the RailHawks managed to steal a victory against one of Division 2's best teams in one of the toughest stadiums in the Northern Hemisphere: the Juan Ramón Loubriel in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, home of the mighty Islanders.
And the hero couldn't have been more appropriate: Daniel Paladini, last year's team MVP, who has struggled to hold a regular place thus far this season. He came on as a late substitute and scored off a low drive from a spot kick
just outside the area about 35 yards out, in the last play of the game.
The strike was reminiscent of Paladini's late game-winner a year ago at WakeMed Soccer Park against the Cleveland City Stars: Again, his kick, taken slightly to the left of the goal, slithered through a crowded box, perhaps taking an anonymous deflection or two before finding the net. Tonight in Puerto Rico, Paladini took his shot, then raced back to midfield along the touchline where he was tackled by jubilant teammates. The five minutes of stoppage time were up, and the referee went peep-peep-peep.
RailHawks coach Martin Rennie told Triangle Offense afterward, “This is one of the hardest places to come to and win in the entire CONCACAF region. Cruz Azul didn’t win here; Columbus Crew didn’t win here."
But the RailHawks did.
Wearing all-white kits, the RailHawks came out with a defensively oriented lineup, with Rennie leaving Gregory Richardson, Etienne Barbara and Paladini on the bench in favor of greater brawn. But the visitors struck first with a goal by Sallieu Bundu in the 5th minute from a Josh Gardner cross. That score held for the next 68 minutes.
Along the way, RailHawks keeper Eric Reed, making his first start in
three games two and a half weeks, made several difficult saves from a Puerto Rico side that, despite losing Jonathan Steele and Cristian Arrieta—the last two league players of the year—still has such talents as Kendall Jagdeosingh and Nicholas Addlery remaining.
In the 73rd minute, the Islanders lined up a 25-yard free kick on the left wing. Chris Nurse headed Josh Hansen's kick into the woodwork, but the RailHawks failed to clear their lines. The ball found the foot of David Foley, who turned in his first goal of the season.
In the 85th minute, however, the RailHawks' Gardner received a gift of a penalty. He was dribbling toward the byline just inside the area on the right when he was clipped by a Puerto Rico defender. It was the equivalent of a basketball player fouling a shooter 40 feet from the basket, but the referee had little choice. He pointed to the spot.
Up stepped second-half substitute Richardson. Perhaps fresh off his penalty kick triumph against Tampa Bay, Richardson kicked the ball with the same hesitation step/ chip shot combo with which he beat the Rowdies' keeper. The thing with that kind of penalty kick is that you look brilliant when you make it, and an ass when you miss. Puerto Rico's longtime stellar keeper Bill Gaudette wasn't fooled for a second, and easily blocked Richardson's weak shot. (Perhaps Gaudette has a computer that plays videos.)
Fortunately, Paladini was on hand for his game-winner 10 minutes later, which came after Bundu was fouled by David Horst, who earned a
second yellow straight red for the infraction.
"We knew we could change the game from the bench," Rennie said. "And, in the end, that’s what we did to win it.”
Paladini and Bundu's goals were their first of the season, and Bundu's opener was the first time the RailHawks have scored this season in the run of play against 11 men. Now the RailHawks have eight points as they travel to Montreal for a game Sunday that represents the second match in a brutal four-game road trip—but one that has yielded three points so far.
**This post has been corrected after examination of videos revealed a couple of errors.