heaped on the Carolina RailHawks following their home win last Saturday, their Mr. Hyde side was on acute display this afternoon at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton. It’s a lunacy of silver linings to note that the RailHawks doubled their 2014 road goal output during today’s 6-1 shellacking at the feet/heads of FC Edmonton. It’s sobering reality to point out that the Eddies’ goal total today alone exceeded their overall 2014 goal output coming into the match (five) by 120 percent.
The die was cast a mere 37 seconds in when Daryl Fordyce maneuvered through a porous RailHawks defense and slipped a shot past goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald. for the early lead. Edmonton doubled the margin in the 13th when some comically bad set piece defending off an Eddies free kick supplied Tomi Ameobi with a header goal and 2-0 lead.
Lance Laing—who torched the RailHawks defenders along the left wing all game—extended the lead to 3-0 with seeing-eye skimmer in the 31st minute. Fordyce added insult to injury in the 43rd minute, as a hopeful hit from distance proved helpful once it deflected off the hip of RailHawks defender Austen King, causing the orb to loop over the head of an already misdirected Fitzgerald for a 4-0 halftime lead.
Carolina got a goal back in the 74th minute. Mike Grella, who squandered two shots in the box in the first half, delivered a cross from the left side of the box that found its way across Edmonton keeper John Smits to Connor Tobin standing goalmouth. Tobin deposited the sitter to cut the lead to 4-1.
However, Edmonton reclaimed the advantage a minute later. Driving past a step-slow Daniel Scott, Fordyce half-volleyed home a cross into the box to secure his hat trick and a 5-1 lead.
The final blow came during added time when an Edmonton long ball into the box was swatted down by King, capping an especially egregious day for the RailHawks center back. Sadi Jalali was given the honors of converting the PK to account for the final score.
Despite the loss, the RailHawks finish the 9-game North American Soccer League (NASL) spring season with a record of 4-2-3 (14 points), good for fourth place in the NASL standings. The win by FC Edmonton (2-2-5, 8 points) is only their second win this year for a team that remains next-to-last in the league table.
But the home versus road numbers for Carolina are both stark and sorrowful. At WakeMed Soccer Park, Carolina finishes the spring season with four wins out of four matches, outscoring their NASL visitors 9-1. On the road, the RailHawks have three losses and two draws in five matches. Moreover, Carolina has been outscored in those five matches … 14 to 2.
Overall, the RailHawks haven’t lost a competitive match at WakeMed Soccer Park since October 21, 2012, a span of 21 consecutive games. Meanwhile, Carolina has won only once out of its last 21 road matches.
Suffice to say that while the RailHawks might
be able to sneak into the NASL’s new 4-team playoff format by winning every home game and losing/tying every away match (indeed, they’d qualify at this nine-game mark), that formula isn’t going to generate a league championship once the RailHawks have to hit the tarmac.
Attempting to divine the reasons for Carolina’s home/away schism is an exercise in futility. Asking for insight from RailHawks players, coaches and management is similarly unproductive since the question has been posed to them many times from many sources over the past season and a half. Everything has been tried, from slavish lineup continuity to shaking up the formation and starting XI.
What might help, though? Here are my two-cent observations:
- Toni Ståhl at center back—The former Fort Lauderdale Striker, who joined the RailHawks two matches into the season, started three league games plus one Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tie at center back for Carolina. The RailHawks conceded zero goals during those four matches, including a scoreless road draw at spring season champion Minnesota United FC and a 1-0 win over the second-place New York Cosmos, a game the RailHawks completed with only nine players on the field.
In the six matches where Ståhl didn’t start at center back, Carolina conceded 15 goals. Ståhl did start two of those six, a 4-0 loss at Ottawa and 3-0 defeat at San Antonio, but he played midfielder and left back, respectively. Ståhl has missed Carolina’s last two games with a rib injury suffered during the Open Cup match against the Charlotte Eagles. The RailHawks need him back in the back in a big way.
- All Shipalane, (almost) all the time—Ty Shipalane remains the engine that makes the RailHawks go. The speedy South African started every home game, and we know how they turned out. However, Shipalane was out of the starting XI in three of the four road games. He couldn’t travel to the 4-0 Ottawa loss due to visa issues, didn’t enter the 0-0 draw in Minnesota until the 58th minute and was held out of today’s massacre in Edmonton until the 66th minute and the deficit already 4-0. Yes, Shipalane started the 3-0 loss at San Antonio, but he was also taken off in the 62nd minute when the score was 2-0. You can’t play Shipalane every minute of every game; just realize that when he doesn’t start the RailHawks already have a disadvantage.
- Rest Zack Schilawski—Here’s an amazing stat: when RailHawks manager Colin Clarke removed Schilawski in the 88th minute of today’s loss at FC Edmonton, it’s the only game this year that Schilawski hasn’t played the full 90 minutes. Yet, since scoring three goals and notching an assist in Carolina’s first two games earned Schilawski the league’s Player of the Month for April, he has no goals and a lone assist over the subsequent eight matches (including the Cup tie against Charlotte) despite his copious playing time. Everyone values Schilawski’s tenacity and hard work, particularly Clarke. However, with a panoply of options on a deep RailHawks bench, one wonders why Schilawski continues to get the nod in all situations. For example, the arrival of Mike Grella at striker has prompted Clarke to occasionally shift Schilawski from his natural forward position out to the wings. Meanwhile, other winger options like Enzo Martinez and Braian Cyrino wallow on the bench.
The good news for Carolina is that they won’t play another away match until July 17. In the interim, the RailHawks host Chivas USA in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup next Saturday, June 14. If Carolina wins that match, it’ll host a fifth round match on June 24, possibly against the LA Galaxy. The RailHawks then host a friendly against Puebla FC on July 6, and will open the NASL’s fall campaign at home on July 12 against Indy Eleven.
The bad news? Three of the RailHawks’ first five games of the fall season are on the road: first-place Minnesota United, then third-place San Antonio Scorpions and then second-place New York Cosmos.
WEBCAST—For all the