Late in the unbeaten Carolina RailHawks’ 5-2 win over the San Antonio Scorpions Saturday evening, Carolina manager Colin Clarke was exhorting his team to continue attacking in search of goals. His presumed purpose was that while Carolina’s back line has improved dramatically from last season, the RailHawks’ best defense remains their potent offense.
But, there may have been another motivation at play.
“[We still had] a bit of a horrible taste in our mouth from last year when we got beat down in San Antonio, so that was still in the back of our mind,” Clarke said. “I’d have loved to stuff a few more in, but five’s pretty good.”
Etienne and Campos finally reunited Saturday night in Minneapolis, this time as members of Minnesota United FC against the RailHawks. But a star by any other name still shines just a bright, and Etienne was just that, notching a brace for his first goals since returning to the NASL. However, a late golazo by newest RailHawk Enzo Martinez gave Carolina a 2-2 draw with Minnesota and an important road point against the consensus NASL preseason favorites.
As previously reported earlier this week, Carolina’s Director of Operations David Vaught confirmed that Enzo Martinez has joined the RailHawks on loan from Real Salt Lake. Martinez arrived in RailHawks’ camp on Wednesday and could be eligible for this weekend’s road match against Minnesota United FC, one of three teams tied atop the NASL table.
The 22-year-old Martinez was a first-round pick by Real Salt Lake in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft after leaving UNC-Chapel Hill after his junior season to sign a Generation adidas professional contract. Since arriving in Utah, however, Martinez has yet to make his first-team MLS debut. He has appeared in seven reserve games this year, mostly as a defensive midfielder.
Martinez was a member of the Tar Heels’ 2011 men’s soccer national championship squad. However, there are a couple of other connections behind this loan. While in college, Martinez played for the RailHawks U-23s team that won the 2011 USASA U-23 National Cup. The RailHawks U-23s’ coach is Dewan Bader, who remains assistant coach for the RailHawks’ senior squad. In addition, RSL Head Coach Jason Kreis played two seasons in 2003-04 for the Dallas Burn (later FC Dallas) under then-head coach Colin Clarke, who is now the RailHawks’ gaffer.
Although the Martinez deal has been reported as a short-term loan, Vaught said the arrangement could lengthen depending on circumstances and performance.
Vaught also confirmed the imminent arrival of Kevin Rutkiewicz, a 32-year-old Scottish defender who just completed his season with Greenock Morton in the Scottish First Division. Rutkiewicz is expected to arrive in RailHawks camp next week and feature at center back, further bolstering Carolina’s back line.
Also, the RailHawks are working to ink a contract with striker César Elizondo, who has been training in Carolina for several weeks. The 25-year-old Elizondo has played for Saprissa in his native Costa Rica since 2007. He also has 10 caps for the Costa Rican senior national team.
Vaught says the RailHawks must finalize their request for Elizondo’s International Clearance Process (ITC) before the international transfer window closes Monday evening in order to sign him.
It was also the fourth straight, and fifth out of the last six, games between Carolina and Fort Lauderdale at WakeMed Park that a Railhawk notched a brace. Coming on Latin Fest night, it’s oddly coincidental that Brian Shriver, the only Spanish-speaking RailHawk who took the field, scored those two goals. Of course, the fact that that lone Spanish speaker is also Anglo bespeaks the bedeviling conundrum of trying to attract soccer-mad Hispanics (legal status utterly irrelevant and insulting, Internet trolling notwithstanding) to lower-division American games. Yes, the RailHawks set a club attendance record last month when Pumas de la UNAM came to Cary and Latino fans came out in droves, mostly to cheer the visiting Liga MX club. Of course, one would expect the same fervor from Americans in Paris if, say, the Los Angeles Lakers came to scrimmage Paris-Levallois Basket.
Coming off a lackluster performance during a road draw against Tampa Bay last weekend, the RailHawks was clearly looking forward to the roomy, well-manicured confines of home. Ty Shipalane made his 2013 return to the starting XI, and the attention he drew opened up the rest of the field for his teammates.
After unveiling their 2012 NASL Championship placard and with former NASL Best XI goalkeeper Jeff Attinella (now with Real Salt Lake) in attendance, the Rowdies totally controlled play throughout the game, outshooting the RailHawks 17-6. An apparent Jay Needham goal in the 16th minute was nullified due to offsides. An on-target free kick by Luke Mulholland in the 30th minute was saved by a leaping Akira Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald proved solid in goal for Carolina throughout the game and earned seven saves, including a diving fingertip deflection of an Amani Walker header in the 38th minute.
The RailHawks opened the match with a midfield of Floyd Franks, Austin Da Luz and Nick Millington, leaving Ty Shipalane on the bench until he came on in the 72nd minute. Shipalane got loose in the box in the 84th minute, but he was knocked off the ball before unleashing a shot.
Along with Fitzgerald, the most impressive RailHawks performance was defender Paul Hamilton in his club debut. Hamilton made a terrific slide tackle from behind to save of a goal-scoring opportunity in the 26th minute and was a force in the air throughout. However, two yellow cards in the final 10 minutes sent off the 25-year-old Canadian, who will now be unavailable for next Saturday’s home opener against FC Edmonton, Hamilton’s former team.
While the RailHawks’ performance was subpar, the team nevertheless earned a point during their lone visit to St. Petersburg during the league’s Spring Season. With the other two NASL opening weekend games also ending in draws, every team will enter the second weekend’s competition on equal footing.
“After a slow start in the first half, I thought we responded well in the second and worked hard for the point,” said RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke in a team statement. “To come away with a point on the road moves us forward and our defense was a big part of that tonight. Akira (Fitzgerald) and Paul (Hamilton) had great performances in the back for us tonight.”
The RailHawks hosts FC Edmonton next Saturday, April 13 at WakeMed Soccer Park. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
Even before the kickoff of the RailHawks’ 2013 NASL regular season, the club has already set a new single-game home attendance record of 8,054 for the March 20 friendly against Pumas da la UNAM. It announced a significant collaboration and sponsorship arrangement with Capital Area Soccer League in which the CASL boys’ USSF Development Academy and Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) girls’ teams will compete under the name “Capital Area RailHawks.” In conjunction with the expansion of WakeMed Soccer Park, the club has constructed open-air party decks that will feature, among other libationary amenities, after-match entertainment by musicians arranged through ReverbNation, a music social networking website. Musical groups will also accompany several pre-game events planned throughout the season.
And, oh, there are soccer games going on, too. The RailHawks return at least 15 players from last season’s roster, including the bulk of an attacking corps that scored the second-most goals in the league.
Speaking with Hamilton today after his first day of training camp in Cary, the 25-year-old Calgary, Alberta, native says his path to Carolina came to fruition rather suddenly.
“There had been talks the previous week with [RailHawks’ manager] Colin [Clarke] and my agent,” Hamilton says. “And then all of a sudden [Clarke] asked, ‘Hey, can you get down here? We’ll book you a flight.’ So I found out probably 5 o’clock Thursday night and was on a plane at 7 a.m. Friday morning.”
Hamilton played the last three years with NASL rival FC Edmonton, beginning with the club’s 2010 exhibition season. Since 2011, he appeared in 51 matches and scored two goals. “Hammy” led the Eddies last season with 2,024 minutes played and was named team MVP by the Edmonton Supporters Group. Moreover, he was selected to the 2012 NASL Best XI team by the league’s coaches.
Although the newly expanded WakeMed Soccer Park was unveiled at last month’s friendly between the RailHawks and Vancouver Whitecaps, the Pumas match provided the first true opportunity for the facility to flex its logistical muscles. The night after approximately 1,000 curious observers ventured out to watch an early evening Pumas practice session, a new RailHawks home attendance record 8,054 (mostly Pumas) partisans packed the park, filling seats from the outer reaches of the North Stand to the top tier of the upper deck. With a nip in the air, noisemakers—both human and artificial—rang out from end zone to edifice, usually in service to Club Universidad. And those who couldn’t make it to the game had the opportunity to view the first match of the new year broadcast locally on WRAL2 and 99.9-HD3 under an expanded TV and radio partnership between the RailHawks and Capitol Broadcasting Company.
The RailHawks faced a split Vancouver squad that nevertheless included Camilo, last season’s points leader, touted rookie Erik Hurtado and English Premier League veteran Nigel Reo-Coker, who played the opening half to make his Whitecaps debut. Also seeing time for former RailHawks manager Martin Rennie were ex-RailHawks Brad Knighton, Matt Watson and Marques Davidson.
The Whitecaps came out the aggressors for the 3,253 partisans christening the newly expanded WakeMed Soccer Park. After a couple of early saves by RailHawks’ goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, a Floyd Franks giveaway in the backfield led to Whitecaps’ forward Corey Hertzog—who scored 17 goals last year for the Wilmington Hammerheads—being taken down from behind in the box by Ciaran O’Brien in the 8th minute. Camilo stepped to the spot and hammered home his PK for the early lead.