The Fast and the Fury: RailHawks race past Ottawa to open 2015 season

Posted April 4, 2015

— As the final whistle blew on the Carolina RailHawks’ 3-1 win over the Ottawa Fury to open the 2015 North American Soccer League (NASL) season, the strains of Pharrell Williams’ pop hit “Happy” blared over the loudspeakers at WakeMed Soccer Park. The song’s sentiment echoed the feelings of the 5,190 RailHawks partisans while adding an ironic coda to a sometimes tempestuous match.

Indeed, the closing chaos to the Saturday afternoon spectacle recounted the last time Fury manager Marc dos Santos and striker Tom Heinemann shared this field in 2010, when dos Santos’ Montreal Impact chased game officials out of the park after Heinemann’s late score snared a playoff series win for the RailHawks.

Today, dos Santos didn’t open his post-game press conference until inquiring whether any representatives of the NASL website were present (they were not) in order to measure the brunt of his comments.

“I don’t want you guys thinking I’m criticizing [Carolina],” dos Santos said. “It’s not their fault if other people are very, very average.”

Those “other people” were today’s match officials, who whistled a penalty each against both teams in the first half, then let play a controversial sequence that led to the RailHawks’ final goal in the second stanza.

The RailHawks opened their 2015 account in the 12th minute. A deflected pass ended up at the fleet feet of Ty Shipalane alone on the right wing. The speedy South African took a touch before launching a looping curler over the statuesque figure of Fury goalkeeper Romuald Peiser before nestling into the far net for a 1-0 advantage.

Shipalane admitted his opening score of the season was intended as a cross.

“I picked my head up and saw three orange guys in the box,” Shipalane said. “I took a perfect touch with my foot and it just went over the goalkeeper.

“It was a cross, it just ended up being a goal.”

However, a bad Shipalane back pass in the 27th minute ended up with Fury forward Andrew Wiedeman, who was quickly taken down in the box by Carolina defender Daniel Scott. However, RailHawks goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap stoned the ensuing penalty kick from Carl Haworth to maintain Carolina’s lead.

Gilstrap, who played the last five seasons with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of USL, spent the preseason battling with newcomer Brian Sylvestre for the starting keeper spot. He says he knew about a week ago that he would probably get the opening game nod.

“My outlook coming into this season was to work as hard as possible and if I’m the best guy I’ll play, and if Brian’s better than me he’ll get to play,” Gilstrap admitted. “Brian’s really good … if I had to choose I don’t know who I would have gone with.”

Less than a minute after Gilstrap’s save, a nifty back-heel chip from Nazmi Albadawi along the right wing freed up Shipalane in attack. It was now Fury defender Drew Beckie’s turn for a penalty as he shouldered Shipalane down just inside the box.

“I saw the play developing and it was a perfect flick,” Shipalane said. “I took a touch and [Beckie] took me out. He hit the ball as well, but you can’t just do a reckless tackle like that.”

The RailHawks’ Nacho Novo stepped to the spot and powered his PK past Peiser to double Carolina’s lead to 2-0.

The RailHawks nearly snagged a third first-half goal in the 44th when Shipalane again pierced the area and laid the ball off to Novo mere meters from goal. However, Peiser parried away Novo’s one-touch attempt with a reflexive leg lunge.

Ottawa entered the second half with some renewed vigor facing down The Most Dangerous Score in Soccer™. In the 57th minute, Haworth maneuvered across the top of the box before cutting loose an open shot that ricocheted off the left post and across the face of goal.

Ottawa finally got on the board in the 84th minute. A Fury cross off the right wing from Paulo Junior found second half sub Brandon Poltronieri flashing at goal past a disorganized RailHawks defense. Poltronieri’s header was true to cut the lead to 2-1.

Gilstrap graciously accepted responsibility for losing the clean sheet.

“I followed the ball and thought I had a beat on it. The wind pushed it and held it up a little bit and allowed them to get there before me. I don’t think I could have done a lot differently. I’m supposed to come for that ball, and it’s my job to come get it. So I’ll take that one on my shoulders.”

Indeed, Gilstraps says the windy conditions were a factor from the outset of the match.

“I think wind was the underlying story of today’s game,” Gilstrap said. “We were lucky enough to win the toss and have the wind at our back early, which enabled us to play out of the back. Then we knew were going to battle 45 minutes in the second half.”

After squandering a clear scoring chance in the 87th minute, RailHawks sub Simone Bracalello notched Carolina’s third goal in added time. A confusing sequence that found Fury midfielder Julian de Guzman prone on the pitch continued without any foul call from referee Robert Sibiga. Instead, the RailHawks hurriedly played the ball ahead to Bracalello, who drove unabated off the left wing before slotting his shot past Peiser.

The Fury was furious, particularly de Guzman, who earned a yellow card for dissent before immediately seeing a straight red card for grabbing Sibiga’s shoulder in a supposed attempt to demonstrate why he went to ground.

Dos Santos was equally apoplectic.

“You guys are going to think it’s funny when you watch the goal again, because Julian [de Guzman] gets his shirt almost torn off and it leads to a counterattack where Carolina scores. Watch the video of the goal because it’s laughable.”

RailHawks manager Colin Clarke understands Ottawa’s consternation but was unapologetic for the outcome of the play.

“The [Fury] players thought there was a foul,” Clarke said. “But as you tell your eight-year-olds, you play until the whistle. Whether there was [a foul] or not, the ref didn’t blow the whistle and you’ve got to keep playing. It looked like something had happened and there was a lot of hesitation, but Simone was the one to react and had a good finish.”

Clarke says that of his five listed substitutes for today’s game, only two—Bracalello and recent signee Jack Coleman—were totally fit. That accounted for Blake Wagner getting the nod at left back in place of longtime RailHawk Kupono Low, and Coleman coming on late in the match instead of veteran Wells Thompson.

The RailHawks travel to face FC Edmonton next Sunday, April 12 before returning home on Saturday, April 18 to host the Atlanta Silverbacks.

In the meantime, Carolina can take solace—be happy, if you will—to earn their first result of the season playing an attacking style of play similar to last season.

“It’s a fun way to play,” Clarke said. “Overall we were good and it was a positive start to the season.”


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