RailHawks play to draw in home spring finale
Posted June 6, 2015
Updated June 7, 2015
Cary, N.C. — The Carolina RailHawks’ star-crossed North American Soccer League (NASL) spring season has seen an early exit from the U.S. Open Cup, a home loss to the lowly Atlanta Silverbacks, surrendering two goals in added time to squander a seemingly certain home win against the undefeated New York Cosmos, and the tiny matter of the club’s majority stakeholder pleading guilty in U.S. federal court last month.
Almost overlooked, however, is the fact that Carolina held second place in the NASL standings entering the penultimate week of the league’s spring season. The RailHawks’ spring season bye is next week, so Saturday’s home match against Minnesota United FC was Carolina’s final chance to put points on their column before the NASL’s midseason break.
After going down a goal early in the second half and eventually down a player late in the game, an 80th-minute goal by Nacho Novo off another assist from Ty Shipalane earned Carolina a 1-1 draw with Minnesota United at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Both Carolina and Minnesota entered Saturday on productive regular season runs. The RailHawks had won two consecutive road games following their home draw with the Cosmos. On the other hand, the Loons had only one loss all year and three wins in their last four matches.
But the RailHawks also came in a bit winged. Midfielders Nazmi Albadawi and Mark Anderson were both injured during the team’s 4-0 win last weekend in Jacksonville. That left Carolina reliant on Nacho Novo and Ty Shipalane as basically the lone scoring options.
A scoreless first half featured few chances for Minnesota but left several wanting for the hometown ‘Hawks. Minnesota’s high pressing defense – a staple all year for RailHawks’ opponents – gave Carolina’s depleted midfield fits in possession. But it also created space in the attacking third for Shipalane, Novo and others to exploit.
Novo netted a goal in the 21st minute that was disallowed as offside. Leo Osaki couldn’t get a handle on a through ball in the box from Shipalane in the 23rd minute. Minnesota goalkeeper Sammy N’Djock parried away a short-range Shipalane blast in the 26th. Shortly after, Novo headed a Wes Knight cross into the aluminum grandstands.
However, it was the Loons that struck quickly after intermission. Forward J.C. Banks, finding space just inside the area, delivered a shot that deflected off defender Futty Danso and past Neil Hlavaty before bounding beyond helpless goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald for a 1-0 Minnesota lead. It was Banks’ first NASL goal.
From there, the RailHawks appeared to wilt in the humid Carolina evening air. Minnesota United sent one sortie after another toward goal. Meanwhile, Carolina’s attack grew inert, apparently resigned to a Loons’ victory.
However, in the 80th minute the Novo-Shipalane connection struck again. Shipalane won the race to a ball bounding toward the end line before rocketing a pinpoint cross to Novo stationed six yards in front of the far post. The Spaniard's header was true, flying past N’Djock for the 1-1 equalizer.
It was Novo’s team-leading fourth goal this season and Shipalane’s team-leading fourth assist. But after the game, Novo said he was too angry to precisely remember the details of his goal because of what transpired six minutes later.
As Minnesota’s Juliano Vicentini held the ball along the touch line in front of the RailHawks’ bench, Novo tackled the midfielder, catching player and ball from an angle. Vicentini went down in a heap, and referee Mark Kadlecik showed Novo a straight red card.
After the game, Novo objected to the red card, along with multiple offside calls flagged against him throughout the match.
“That’s never a red card,” Novo said. “I just went for the ball and hit it lateral-wise. There was no intention to hurt anybody. … Even the Minnesota players [told me] it wasn’t a red card. It’s a yellow if [the referee] wants to take a yellow.”
RailHawks manager Colin Clarke echoed his player's frustration.
“I saw a bad refereeing decision,” Clarke said when asked what he observed on Novo’s tackle. “There are some referees, particularly him [Kadlecik] here, never does anything good. He’s always got to get involved somehow in the game with a bad decision, and he did it again tonight.”
The RailHawks (3-5-2, 14 pts.) end the weekend in a tie with Minnesota for third in the NASL table. Minnesota and perhaps even San Antonio can tie or leapfrog Carolina in the standings next week while the RailHawks are hibernating. Regardless, Carolina will enter their 20-game fall campaign in prime position to challenge for one of the remaining three playoff spots.
The four weeks off until the RailHawks’ next NASL regular season game – the July 4 fall season home opener against, of all teams, Minnesota United – gives Carolina time for injured contributors like Albadawi, Anderson, Simone Bracalello and Austin da Luz to finally heal. However, it also carries uncertainty about the future status of loanees Dzenan Catic and especially Fitzgerald, who allowed only one goal during his three starts since arriving from New York City FC.
“Akira’s been great, we’d love to keep him,” Clarke said. “But at the end of the day it’s not our choice.”
Clarke says that while his team has lately found some fortune on the field, he’s looking forward to having time to heal, regroup and refocus.
“We’ve got to put in some hard work these next 4-5 weeks to be better going into the fall season,” Clarke said. “It’s going to be a long, hard slog over 20 games. And you can see how tight things are … There’s not a lot between winning and losing, so we need to start that second season well and gives ourselves some confidence and momentum.”
CAR: Fitzgerald; Low, Knight, Tobin (C), Wagner (Catic, 76th), Danso; Hlavaty, Thompson, Shipalane, Osaki (Dell, 45th); Novo
MIN: N’Djock; Davis, Dias, Calvano; Pitchkolan (C), Venegas, Ibson, Mendes (Alhassan, 81st), Vicenti; Campos (Ramirez, 66th), Banks (Moura, 86th)
CAR: Novo (80th)
MIN: Banks (48th)
CAR: Novo (87th)