But what truly shook the RailHawks’ collective confidence was that after a 23-game home unbeaten run, Carolina had lost two straight matches at WakeMed Soccer Park: FC Dallas in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup and previously winless Indy Eleven. Chronic losing on the road is one thing. But when the results started going against them at home, that really rattled the RailHawks.
The RailHawks got back on track against Ottawa thanks to several factors. Carolina’s cadre of speedy midfielders—Cesar Elizondo, Ty Shipalane and Enzo Martinez—feasted on the larger dimensions of the WakeMed Soccer Stadium field. The new(est) Carolina back line, now featuring returning right back Jordan Graye, is developing necessary chemistry. And on this night, Zack Schilawski regained his shooting form.
Schilawski opened the books in the 10th minute. Graye played a nifty chip ball ahead to Shipalane running up the middle. Shipalane played the ball out wide to Martinez, whose ensuing cross into the box took a deflection off Fury defender Maycon and dribbled its way to Schilawski stationed in space. Schilawski one-touched a shot past goalkeeper Devala Gorrick for the early lead.
“I was able to stay over [the shot],” Schilawski said. “A lot of times I make mistakes on those. If it’s on my right side I’ll lean back and pop it over. This time I stayed over it, and it found the corner [of the net] for me.”
While Ottawa held the majority of possession for the rest of the first half, the RailHawks had the better chances. In the 33rd minute, Martinez found himself onside and 1-v-1 with Gorrick. However, Martinez’s first dud was saved by the keeper, and then Martinez air-mailed the rebound over the goal. Three minutes later, Shipalane gathered a through ball from Graye but pulled his angled shot wide left.
And in the 37th minute, Elizondo was nearly taken down in the box but laudably stayed on his feet in order to reach a loose ball with Gorrick out of position. Although positioned at an acute angle, Elizondo calmly poked the ball in the direction of the utterly open goal … and deflected his shot off the left post. Geometricians will undoubtedly devote decades of calculation and research to decipher how Elizondo failed to convert that shot.
A minute later, Schilawski decided to show his teammates how it’s done. A perfectly weighted pass over the defense by Elizondo landed in the path of a streaking Schilawski. The Carolina striker again needed only one touch to execute a chip shot over Gorrick that nestled into the back of the net for his brace.
“A really good ball from Cesar, huh?” Schilawski said. “I picked my head up and saw the keeper was out a bit, and I just went for it first time.”
After halftime, Carolina wasted no time steering clear of The Most Dangerous Score in Soccer™. In the 48th minute, a nicely arched cross off the right flank from Graye grazed off Gorrick’s fingertips. Stationed far post, Nazmi Albadawi dove head-first at the bouncing ball like a butting ram, nudging it over the goal line for the 3-0 advantage.
Ottawa held 56 percent of possession for the game, had more corner kicks and attacking drives, and equalled Carolina’s shot attempts. It’s why Ottawa head coach Marc Dos Santos, making his first return to WakeMed Soccer Park since April 2011 when he was managing the Montreal Impact, believed the contest was closer than the one-sided score indicates.
“We had spells where we had a lot of possession in Carolina’s half,” Dos Santos said. “But we seemed not to be effective enough, and we seem not to have enough movement that put us facing the goal. The couple of chances we had today had a lack of confidence.
“Carolina counterattacked well, and I think the goals were sloppy from our side. It’s a little bit exaggerated, the 3-0, for the possession that we had. But it’s a result that humbles ourself and makes us think on things that we have to get better.”
The result was a marked difference from the previous meeting between Carolina and Ottawa in late April during the NASL spring season. The Fury embarrassed the RailHawks 4-0 on the ragged artificial turf of Ottawa’s then temporary home at Carleton University's Keith Harris Stadium.
RailHawks’ manager Colin Clarke shared in his team’s obvious ebullience after Saturday’s result.
“We hit a little bit of a lull since FC Dallas, maybe a hangover from our Open Cup run” Clarke admitted. “It was nice to get back to three points, and it was important.”
The win creeps the RailHawks back into fourth place in the yearly NASL league standings. That said, Clarke promises that player personnel additions (plural) are in the works.
And none too soon. The RailHawks travel to New York to face the Cosmos next Saturday. Carolina then plays five of its next seven games in Cary, starting with two potentially pivotal home matches against the Tampa Bay Rowdies and FC Edmonton.
Why pivotal? When a reporter asked Clarke whether he was anxious for the media to stop asking about the RailHawks’ continuing road losses, Clarke was ready with a comeback.
“As long as you don’t stop asking about me about the wins at home.”
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—There was a palpable sense of relief among players, coaches and the 4,294 in attendance following the Carolina RailHawks’ 3-0 victory over Ottawa Fury FC Saturday evening in Cary. Sure, the win snaps the RailHawks’ four-match losing streak in NASL play, a skid that saw Carolina outscored 11-2.