With only a baker's dozen signings announced, and the knowledge that several of last year's best players are not returning, the team must rebuild, and fast.
On a cool, overcast afternoon, we ventured out to Field 7, located southeast of the stadium, to watch some soccer. The victims this afternoon were the Seahawks of UNC-Wilmington, a decent team from the Colonial Athletic Association, a Division I conference that seems to supply a lot of the basketball teams responsible for early-round upsets in the NCAA tournament.
(The Seahawks seemed grateful to have the opportunity for a challenging game; a look at their 2010 schedule reveals why the NCAA will swiftly become irrelevant to the training of soccer players. UNC-Wilmington played an 18-game schedule in nine weeks, from the first week of September through the first week of November. The sport should be played competitively in both semesters for it to be useful to the development of players in the crucial years from 18-22. If we ever want to produce the likes of Jack Wilshere, that is.)
Tonight's game wasn't much—the RailHawks had far superior size and skill, but they were rusty and mostly unused to playing together. The first-half side was composed mostly of trialists, but they produced the game's only goals, both poached off second balls.
Coach Martin Rennie wouldn't publicly identify either of the trialists, but the first was a large fellow playing striker in the 4-5-1/4-3-3. If he's a serious prospect, Rennie didn't say.
But the second player, Rennie indicated, is a strong contender for the squad. In order to get a good look, Rennie inserted Trialist No. 2 into the game midway through the first half so he could play through the whole game, for an hour. Rennie expects to play him again Friday at WRAL Soccer Center, when the RailHawks take on Caleb Norkus and the CASL Elite.
A few notes on the players we saw, and what Rennie told us:
1. In the first half, we recognized the following players: Gregory Richardson and Sainey Touray on the left and right, respectively, and Joseph Kabwe in the middle. Rennie said Kabwe is not under contract. Richardson repeatedly sent his defenders tripping over their feet, but Touray was less impressive, getting caught in possession and making bad passes before being replaced by Trialist No. 2, who played out wide for the remainder of the game.
2. In the second half, we got something resembling a first team: Sallieu Bundu up top, Brian Farber on the right, Jonny Steele and Cory Elenio in front of Floyd Franks in the midfield, and a back four, from left, of Kupono Low, John Krause, Brad Rusin and Devon McKenney. They totally bossed the Seahawks, but failed to score. Krause, in particular, appears to be a punishing tackler—a couple of UNC-Wilmington kids should have sore spots tomorrow.
3. The goalkeeper situation: Rennie has to replace both Eric Reed and Nic Platter, who have departed for the USL Pro Charlotte Eagles and the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Rennie told us that Akira Fitzgerald, a trialist, played the first half. Fitzgerald just finished his final season with Wake Forest, after which he was named second team All-ACC (a fine achievement considering he was playing on a team badly weakened by the loss of Zack Schilawski and Corben Bone).
"Who was the goalie in the second half, coach?" Rennie couldn't say, because the signing isn't quite complete, but the second-half player is going to be the RailHawks' first-choice keeper.
4. Among the signed players who have yet to show up to camp or take the field: Matt Watson, Chris Nurse, Kithson Bain, Stephen Glass. Although we forgot to ask about Etienne Barbara and Greg Shields, we did remember Amir Lowery. Turns out he's playing in Finland right now, according to Rennie, and doesn't seem likely to return to Cary this season. (Lowery seems to be playing for first-division FC Honka, according to this site, but FC Honka's own website doesn't list him.)
5. Rennie said there are about 16 players under contract, with a couple more signings nearly complete. That would leave four places left to fill on what will be a 22-man roster, he said.
Kickoff on Friday night is 7 p.m. at WRAL Soccer Center.