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Thursday, February 27, 2014

NASL unveils new 2014 postseason format

Posted by on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 4:18 PM

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Today, the North American Soccer League (NASL) unveiled a new postseason championship format effective for the 2014 season. Branded “The Championship”—and conspicuously not “playoffs"—in the league's press release, the new format will comprise a four-team, two-weekend tournament with a semifinal round held the weekend of November 8-9 and the championship final held the following weekend, November 15-16.

The tournament format, approved this week by the NASL Board of Governors, will feature the winners of the NASL’s spring and fall seasons at its top two seeds. The two season champs will be the top two seeds in the postseason, with the top seed being whichever club notches the better combined regular season record. These top two seeds will host their semifinal match.

The three and four seeds in the tournament will be the next two clubs that post the best overall records from both seasons combined. If the same club wins both the spring and fall seasons, the clubs with the second, third and fourth best overall records from both seasons combined will qualify for the championship.

Teams will retain their seeding throughout the tournament, with the top-seeded semi final winner will host the championship final.

“We have a vision for how we want to be structured when we reach 18 clubs,” said NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson in a statement. “The Championship is an integral part of that vision and the fan feedback we received overwhelmingly supported the decision. The already fierce competition in NASL just got tougher.”

Last week, Triangle Offense published a marketing survey the NASL recently circulated to select markets and supporters groups asking for reaction to possible changes in the league’s postseason format. This survey contained most of the elements of the new postseason format the league announced today. Although posited as a mere proposal in the survey, today’s announcement by the league clearly shows that those purported changes were, in fact, well beyond the exploratory stage.

Today’s announcement also represents an about-face for a league that spent the better part of the past year trumpeting the efficacy of its new split season and single-game championship format. Semantics aside, the league has essentially adopted a four-team postseason playoff system. This alteration will expand postseason pool and avoid outcomes like last season, when the two teams with the best combined records over the entire NASL regular season—the Carolina RailHawks and Tampa Bay Rowdies—were excluded from postseason play because neither won the spring or fall championship.

That said, this change also jettisons awarding hosting rights for the Soccer Bowl final to the spring season champion. While controversial among some supporters, this perk allowed the league to identify the site of the championship months in advance, enabling it to plan and coordinate ticket sales, travel, and marketing and other related events surrounding the championship weekend well ahead of time. The fruits of this advance planning were on display during last November’s Soccer Bowl weekend in Atlanta.
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    Semantics aside, the league has essentially adopted a four-team postseason playoff system.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Carolina RailHawks release 2014 preseason schedule

Posted by on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 10:33 PM

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The Carolina RailHawks do not open play in their 2014 North American Soccer League regular season until April 12. But with training camp now open, the club has solidified its preseason scrimmage schedule.

According to David Vaught, the RailHawks’ Vice-President for Operations and Communications, the team’s preseason scrimmages will all take place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. The following is a list of matches, including opponents and kickoff times:

Sat., March 8: Charleston Battery - 2:00 p.m.
Tues., March 18: UNC-Wilmington - 5:00 p.m. *
Sat., March 22: UNC-Chapel Hill - 2:00 p.m. *
Fri., March 28: N.C. State - 9:30 a.m.
Sat., March 29: Charlotte Eagles - 1:00 p.m.
Sun., April 6 - Old Dominion University - Noon *

* = kickoff time tentative and subject to change
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    The team’s preseason scrimmages will take place at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

NASL survey contemplates changes to postseason format and season calendar

Posted by on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 at 10:45 AM

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The North American Soccer League (NASL) has commissioned an online survey to select markets and supporter groups seeking their input regarding possible changes to the league’s postseason format and regular season calendar.

The unpublicized survey, forwarded to Triangle Offense by a person close to a supporters group of a NASL team, is being disseminated via SurveyGizmo, an online survey software program.

At the outset of the survey, the league says, “As we consider making significant changes to our competition structure, we would like to request your input and feedback as it relates to postseason play and the NASL calendar.”

First, the NASL states “it is considering a proposal” to alter the season-ending Soccer Bowl championship into a four-team, single-elimination competition that would commence at the end of the regular season.

“The participants would be the respective Spring and Fall season champions,” the survey reads, “and the teams that boast the next two best overall combined (both seasons) records.”
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The survey also asks for suggestions for a suitable title for this overall league champion.

This possible alteration dovetails with comments from NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson during his press conference following last November’s Soccer Bowl in Atlanta. Asked whether league expansion might pave the way for an eventual playoff system, Peterson responded that while he remained opposed to full-blown “playoffs,” he could envision the possibility of a limited postseason “tournament.”

There is no indication in the survey that any future change would affect the 2014 Soccer Bowl postseason format.

The survey also solicits fan opinion on whether the NASL should follow the established summer-based U.S. soccer schedule or the traditional, winter-centric European model. However, the survey does not contend that there is any standing proposal regarding shifting the league’s regular season calendar.

When reached for a response, a league official confirmed the survey's existence. This morning, when asked about the document, a representative of a supporters group associated with the Carolina RailHawks confirmed that it had also received it. 

In a statement, Jarrett Campbell, the founder of the group, Triangle Soccer Fanatics, declined to comment on its specifics.

"The NASL has been great about reaching out to supporters to gather our opinions on the league," Campbell wrote.

"In the past, members of Triangle Soccer Fanatics[...] have participated in a number of focus groups, surveys, supporters' summits and one-on-one dialogues with the league front office. We really appreciate the opportunity to have our voices heard, but would prefer not to comment on the specific contents of any individual focus group or survey conducted by the NASL."

Indeed, this effort at eliciting fan input on such key issues stands in positive contrast to the cloistered posture adopted by the league prior to other recent format changes, including the split regular season instituted in 2013 and the truncated spring season schedule for 2014.

Click below to view a .pdf of the NASL survey:
NASL_Survey.pdf

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Revamped NASL website introduces new features, subscription fee for live matches

Posted by on Wed, Jan 15, 2014 at 12:59 PM

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Being a fan of lower-division soccer often carries an expectation of a lower standard of play and presentation. But for fans of the North American Soccer League (NASL), one upside to this has been free online streaming of matches. Now, that is coming to an end, but the league is betting that a newly designed website, with numerous bells and whistles, will be enough to entice fans to pay a $4.99 per month subscription fee.

When Bill Peterson became commissioner of the NASL nearly 14 months ago, one of his stated goals was improving the league’s Internet presence. That aim takes a large step ahead today with the launch of the NASL’s revamped website, which will link the league and all its member clubs under a unified digital platform.

Whether soccer fans will queue up to pay nearly five dollars a month to watch NASL matches online remains an open question whose answer will largely hinge on whether the broadcast quality of matches improves along with its online platform. While clubs like the Carolina RailHawks and New York Cosmos offer widely approved game webcasts, other teams continue to struggle with the quality of their production and on-air talent. Developing uniform broadcast standards must go hand-in-hand with the improvement of the league’s online presence in order to lure premium content subscribers.

According to the league’s press release, the new website is the product of a new partnership between the NASL and PERFORM, a multimedia sports content distributor that owns one of the largest digital sports rights portfolios, including Goal.com, through contracts covering more than 200 sports and their associated leagues, tournaments and events.

Beyond the new website's streamlined appearance and accessibility, the biggest change for NASL fans is that heretofore free live streaming of league matches will now feature as part of a monthly subscription package that will include live and archived matches, as well as the promise of “additional premium video content,” all for a monthly fee of $4.99.

The website also promises game day features such as a Match Center where fans can view live stats and interact via social media while watching streaming matches.

“We are investing in enhancing our live streaming of matches and are making them available as part of a monthly league-wide subscription package that we believe offers great value,” said NASL Commissioner Peterson in a statement. “Sporting events around the world are increasingly being viewed via online platforms and this partnership with PERFORM will push the NASL to the forefront of how soccer fans access matches in the future.”

The new NASL.com goes live today, and individual club websites revamped for the PERFORM network will go online over the coming weeks.
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    Whether soccer fans will queue up to pay nearly five dollars a month to watch NASL matches online remains an open question.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Lumps of coal: New NASL 2014 spring season truncates schedule and fairness

Posted by on Mon, Dec 23, 2013 at 9:23 AM

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Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the league
Not a rumor was stirring, much less any intrigue
When out of my  e-mail there arose such a clatter
I sprang to my laptop to see what was the matter

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a shrinking spring season with just nine games to cheer
More rapid than RailHawks its commands they came
As the press release shouted and called teams by name!

“Now Strikers! now, Silverbacks! now, Fury and Eddies!
On, Cosmos! On, Indy! on Scorpions and Rowdies!
For a berth in the Soccer Bowl! To the top of the table!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash ... if you’re able!”


I still support the North American Soccer League’s split regular season format. But, they’re making it really, really hard.

In July, the NASL announced their 2014 regular season would retain the split format adopted for 2013. However, the league shifted its midseason break to coincide with the FIFA World Cup. As a result of this and various other factors, the 2014 spring season would comprise 10 games per team to determine both a berth in and hosting rights for the season-ending Soccer Bowl championship. The 2014 fall campaign, which would begin on July 19 following the conclusion of the World Cup, would be a 20-game season to determine the other Soccer Bowl opponent.

However, when Virginia Cavalry FC announced earlier this month that the expansion side would delay their debut until 2015, that left the league with 10 teams for 2014 instead of 11, and a seeming mathematical quandary. Sticking with the same format not only meant lopping another game off the already truncated spring season schedule but also an inequitable allocation of home matches.

Last week, the NASL announced that’s exactly what it is going to do. The 2014 spring season will begin April 12 and run through June 8, with each of the 10 clubs playing a nine-game schedule to determine the spring champion. Far more insidious, however, is that five teams will play five home games: the New York Cosmos, San Antonio Scorpions, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Indy Eleven and Ottawa Fury FC. The remaining five teams—the Carolina RailHawks, Atlanta Silverbacks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, FC Edmonton and Minnesota United FC—will play only four home games.

In a sport where home field advantage is renowned and with a schedule of only nine games, half the league playing one more home game than the other half is a patently unfair construction. Not only does it compromise the league’s competitive balance, but it also denies revenue from that lost home event to five presumably cash-strapped lower division soccer clubs. Meanwhile, the other five league members won’t share in the financial sting.

Compounding the inequity is the murky manner in which the spring season haves and have-nots were selected. A league official told Triangle Offense that determining the teams that would host five spring home games came down to venue blackout dates and other “scheduling considerations.”

This was also the reason given to Curt Johnson, president of the Carolina RailHawks. Speaking with Triangle Offense, Johnson says he was not part of any discussions with league officials over how many home games the RailHawks would host during the 2014 spring season. Indeed, Johnson says from April and November of next year, the team has only a single blackout date involving its use of WakeMed Soccer Park.

Would it have interfered with the RailHawks playing a fifth spring season home game?

“Not to my knowledge,” Johnson responded.

Such lack of transparency invites speculation as to why particular teams came to receive an additional home match. San Antonio has its privately-funded stadium to finance, Tampa Bay has the league’s newest deep-pocket owner, and Indy and Ottawa are the league’s two debut expansion franchises. And, of course, there’s the New York Cosmos™. It’s probably no coincidence that the two teams with the largest average attendances by sizable margins in 2013—San Antonio and New York—were among the chosen five. On the other hand, the three clubs owned and represented on the league’s Board of Directors in 2013 by Traffic Sports—Carolina, Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta—will play four spring home games.

In the case of the Carolina RailHawks, Johnson notes that the spring schedule delivers other particular disparities. Carolina is one of only three teams—along with Ottawa and Minnesota United—that will not play at home to open or conclude the spring season. Meanwhile, three teams already rewarded with five home games also get to open and close their spring seasons on home turf: New York, San Antonio and Tampa Bay.

Moreover, only two of Carolina’s five road opponents are located in the eastern time zone. Indeed, the RailHawks are the only team in the league that has to travel to both Edmonton and Ottawa for road matches.

This scheduling triple-whammy has left a sour taste in the mouths of RailHawks officials.

“I’m disappointed. I’m frustrated,” Johnson says. “I don’t think it’s the schedule it could have been for us. I think it’s a very difficult schedule. It puts us behind the eight-ball right from the start compared to the five teams that host five home games.

“At this point, it is what it is,” Johnson continues. “But for people who are analyzing schedules to see who got the most difficult one, I think it’s pretty clear who got the most difficult one.”

That said, Johnson says the team’s focus continues to be winning championships and entertaining their fans.

“This is a distraction,” Johnson says. “This is unfortunate from the RailHawks’ perspective. But it’s not going to define our season.”

While the removal of Virginia Cavalry FC from the 2014 schedule created these immediate scheduling snafus, the original sin was the league’s decision to suspend play for five weeks during the entire World Cup. In contrast, Major League Soccer will take a two-week break from June 12–24, during the initial group stage.

Moreover, the initial decision to reveal the 2014 split season format back in July when there was still an obvious risk for further upheaval prior to formulating the final schedule was a PR misstep. After the Cavalry bowed out, there were other options available to NASL officials, including adding a 10th spring game with opponents determined by rivalry, regional proximity or random draw in order to even out the number of home matches. Or, abandoning the pretense of completing a compressed spring season prior to the World Cup break in order to explore more flexible scheduling options.

Instead, the NASL has chosen a fundamentally flawed setup. And for five of its teams, this season’s salutation goes out as 2013 starts fading from sight:

“Happy Christmas to all, and enjoy your extra plane flight.”
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    I still support the NASL's split regular season format. But they’re making it really, really hard.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'What have you done for me lately?' - Brian Haynes reacts to the sudden end of his tenure as Atlanta Silverbacks manager

Posted by on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 9:58 AM

Brian Haynes (center) and Eric Wynalda (right), along with Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco, face the media following Atlanta's loss to the New York Cosmos in the NASL Soccer Bowl on Nov. 9. - NASL/ANDREW SNOOK
  • NASL/Andrew Snook
  • Brian Haynes (center) and Eric Wynalda (right), along with Silverbacks goalkeeper Joe Nasco, face the media following Atlanta's loss to the New York Cosmos in the NASL Soccer Bowl on Nov. 9.
In a surprising move, the Atlanta Silverbacks of the North American Soccer League announced yesterday it was declining to exercise their option to extend the contract of head coach Brian Haynes. A month after Haynes’ Silverbacks lost the NASL Soccer Bowl 1-0 to the New York Cosmos, the league’s 2013 coach of the year now finds himself out of a job.

Originally brought to Atlanta in July 2012 as an assistant to interim manager Eric Wynalda, Haynes assumed the managerial reins a month later after Wynalda left to resume his Fox Soccer television duties.

In 2011, the Silverbacks finished last in the league standings with a dismal record of 4-4-20. In 2012, prior to Haynes and Wynalda’s arrival, the team was staggering along with a mark of 1-5-8.

After taking over as interim manager on Aug. 16, Haynes guided Atlanta to a 3-3-1 record over the remainder of the 2012 regular season. Haynes was named full-time manager in the offseason, and his Silverbacks raced out to a record of 6-3-3 over the NASL’s spring season, part of the league’s inaugural split regular season format. As a result, Atlanta was crowned spring season champions and awarded both a berth in the Soccer Bowl and the right to host the league final in November.

Over the intervening months, however, Atlanta struggled during their otherwise meaningless fall campaign, mustering only a 4-4-6 record. Although the team regained much of their early season form for last month’s final, the Silverbacks ultimately fell a Marcos Senna golazo short of a Soccer Bowl championship.

Triangle Offense spoke with Haynes by telephone Monday afternoon, mere hours after he was informed his tenure as the Silverbacks’ manager was over. Since the Soccer Bowl, Haynes says he had been going about preparations for next season, including an open tryout last weekend and a planning session about three weeks with club officials, including Wynalda, currently the Silverbacks’ technical director.

Continue reading…

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    "I'm looking right now at my NASL Coach of the Year trophy and I'm like, 'That doesn't mean anything.' "

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sixth Senna: New York Cosmos win NASL Soccer Bowl 2013 over Atlanta Silverbacks 1-0

Posted by on Sun, Nov 10, 2013 at 2:22 AM


Marcos Senna delivers a sublime goal during the New York Cosmos 1-0 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks in the NASL Soccer Bowl 2013 Saturday in Atlanta. - PHOTO BY NASL/ANDREW SNOOK
  • Photo by NASL/Andrew Snook
  • Marcos Senna delivers a sublime goal during the New York Cosmos 1-0 win over the Atlanta Silverbacks in the NASL Soccer Bowl 2013 Saturday in Atlanta.

The Carolina RailHawks aren’t in Atlanta for this weekend’s North American Soccer League championship, the self-explanatory Soccer Bowl 2013. But Neil Morris is there to provide his observations on the occasion and Saturday’s match between the New York Cosmos and Atlanta Silverbacks for Triangle Offense.

ATLANTA—After finishing their regular season by losing five of their last seven matches, the Atlanta Silverbacks finally returned to their spring season champion form for Saturday’s NASL Soccer Bowl 2013. Unfortunately, the New York Cosmos continued to play like the team that was unbeaten over their last 11 games, had won seven of their last eight matches and only lost once during the entire 14-game fall campaign.

In other words, for all the clamour—some of it justified—about inflated salaries, poaching talent and playing only half the regular season, the Cosmos are a really good second division team. And Marcos Senna, their star, is a really good player. And now, the Cosmos are the champions of the NASL, winning Soccer Bowl 2013 by a score of 1-0 over the Silverbacks.

For record-keeping purposes, it’s the sixth NASL championship for the Cosmos brand, their last coming in 1982. And the game-winning goal was a golazo by Senna, his sixth goal in 15 games this year.

“It’s an exciting day for sure,” gushed Cosmos manager Giovanni Savarese. “The New York Cosmos is back. We worked very hard this season to play in the NASL. We had to come in for the fall season, so we didn’t have that much time to work. I’m very proud of the players because they accomplished great things.”

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    “It’s an exciting day for sure,” gushed Cosmos manager Giovanni Savarese. “The New York Cosmos is back."

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

The big tent party: NASL holds 2013 Soccer Bowl awards banquet

Posted by on Sat, Nov 9, 2013 at 12:02 PM

The Carolina RailHawks aren’t in Atlanta for this weekend’s North American Soccer League championship, the self-explanatory Soccer Bowl 2013. But Neil Morris is there to provide his observations on the occasion and Saturday’s match between the New York Cosmos and Atlanta Silverbacks for Triangle Offense.

Carolina RailHawks President Curt Johnson accepts the 2013 NASL Golden Boot award on behalf of Brian Shriver from Eric Wynalda. - PHOTO FROM NASL
  • Photo from NASL
  • Carolina RailHawks President Curt Johnson accepts the 2013 NASL Golden Boot award on behalf of Brian Shriver from Eric Wynalda.
ATLANTA—Midway through last night’s 2013 NASL Soccer Bowl awards banquet, I was retrieving some maple glazed ham from the carving table situated at the far end of the large garden tent permanently attached to Park Tavern in Atlanta. Former U.S. international John Harkes—rumored to be the debut manager of the expansion Virginia Cavalry FC next season—was speaking on stage when I noticed someone in my eyeline, standing about 15 feet away from the buffet. It was fellow U.S. soccer hall of famer Eric Wynalda, the technical director of the Atlanta Silverbacks, looking on in silence as Harkes spoke.

Beyond the surreality of this scene (consult Google for further explication, if necessary), last night’s soiree was largely a consequence of the NASL’s split regular season implemented this year. The logistics of not only planning such an event but scheduling the panoply of soccer movers and shakers in attendance are virtually impossible if the site of the championship game isn’t known until a week or two prior to the match. Because the Silverbacks clinched both their Soccer Bowl berth and the right to host the game by winning the spring season on July 4, the planning for everything associated with the event—including last night’s banquet—began four months ago.

Some NASL fans will scoff at the notion that their league’s competitive format is driven by shrimp cocktails and prawn sandwiches. However, it’s more than that: planning and selling tickets for the match itself is best accomplished with maximum lead time. Moreover, promoting the league and nurturing its stature with (potential) investors and dignitaries doesn’t just take place on game day. It occurs in boardrooms and, yes, garden tents.

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    Promoting the league and nurturing its stature doesn’t just take place on game day. It occurs in boardrooms and, yes, garden tents.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Chillin' at the Holiday Inn: New York Cosmos meet media on eve of NASL Soccer Bowl 2013

Posted by on Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 5:42 PM

The Carolina RailHawks aren’t in Atlanta for this weekend’s North American Soccer League championship, the self-explanatory Soccer Bowl 2013. But Neil Morris is there to provide his observations on the occasion and Saturday’s match between the New York Cosmos and Atlanta Silverbacks for Triangle Offense.

New York Cosmos manager Giovanni Savarese meets the media Friday in Atlanta in advance of this weekend's NASL Soccer Bowl. - NEIL MORRIS
  • Neil Morris
  • New York Cosmos manager Giovanni Savarese meets the media Friday in Atlanta in advance of this weekend's NASL Soccer Bowl.
ATLANTA—It took me 19 hours to reach Atlanta from North Carolina. That was my choice, mind you, the consequence of splitting up my southbound sojourn with an overnightlayover at my brother’s home in Charlotte. But the end of my trip came just in time for the early Friday afternoon meet-the-media session with select members of the New York Cosmos in the lobby of the Holiday Inn that the Cosmos, league officials and various media will call home this weekend. The session was literally a round table affair, in that various Cosmos players and coaches met a literal quartet of journalists seated around a circular coffee table.

The Cosmos face the Atlanta Silverbacks Saturday evening at Silverbacks Park for the overall NASL crown. Each team has already claimed silverware during the league’s debut split regular season: the Silverbacks for winning the league’s spring season and the Cosmos for winning the fall stanza after not starting play until August. Those achievements earned each team their berth in the Soccer Bowl 2013.

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  • Pin It
    For all their hard work and due deference to this weekend’s opponent, the other thing the New York Cosmos possess in abundance is confidence.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Soccerware: Carolina RailHawks complete 2013 campaign with 2-1 win over San Antonio, Clarke to return as manager in 2014

Posted by on Sun, Nov 3, 2013 at 11:42 AM

Brian Shriver celebrates his game-winning goal in the Carolina RailHawks 2-1 win over the San Antonio Scorpions at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. - PHOTO BY JOANNAH IRVIN
  • Photo by Joannah Irvin
  • Brian Shriver celebrates his game-winning goal in the Carolina RailHawks 2-1 win over the San Antonio Scorpions at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—It’s as if 2013 came full circle for the Carolina RailHawks during their regular season finale against the San Antonio Scorpions Saturday night in Cary. The crowd of 6,015—the largest home attendance since the RailHawks’ win over the LA Galaxy on May 29 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup—was reminiscent of the sizable gates Carolina drew early in the season against the Galaxy, Pumas UNAM and, yes, San Antonio (6,708 saw the RailHawks and the Scorpions at WakeMed Soccer Park on May 11).

On the field, Carolina put on a tactical and technical season retrospective: dominating possession, waves of exquisite buildups … and finishing follies. And, it all ends with Brian Shriver saving the day. Ultimately, the RailHawks’ 2-1 victory over the Scorpions was more significant for what it meant than how it was accomplished. The RailHawks finished with the most points (43) over the entire 2013 NASL season. Perhaps more significant, Carolina gave full faith and credit to their home supporters, finishing unbeaten at home over 13 regular season matches and three U.S. Open Cup ties, winning 14 games and tying two.

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    The RailHawks finish with the best overall regular season in the NASL, but no Soccer Bowl championship game berth.

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I think I speak for Zack's family, we've not missed a game (middle/high schools,Wake Forest U, a game in

by L Jean Schilawski on Zack Schilawski of Carolina RailHawks to enter law school, possibly ending his pro soccer playing career (Sports)

Really awesome to see Petersen pushing to Get the NASL were it belongs, on top of the north american soccer …

by Iranian American on NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson discusses league expansion, playoffs, MLS, paid match streaming and other topics in advance of 2014 regular season kickoff (Sports)

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