CARY — It all seemed eerily familiar.
A closely matched game, a late red card for the opponent, an even later strike for the win.
After all, that's just what happened the last time the Carolina RailHawks faced off against the Cleveland City Stars. In that matchup in May, midfielder Daniel Paladini scored off a free kick in the 90th minute to hand the RailHawks a 1-0 win.
On Saturday, Paladini scored in injury time again -- this time providing a two-goal cushion in the dying embers of the game.
Paladini's goal sealed a 2-0 RailHawks win in a game that was much closer than the score indicated.
It was recent addition -- and scoring phenom -- Gregory Richardson who opened the scoring for Carolina, sending a bomb into the lower left corner in the 82nd minute.
"It was a good goal -- good timing," Richardson said. "And especially good for the team, to get the lead."
For the previous 82 minutes, no one was sure those goals were going to come.
The City Stars kept the RailHawks off their pace for much of the night, slowing the game's tempo and keeping possessions for either team to short intervals.
"At halftime, I really wasn't happy," RailHawks coach Martin Rennie said. "The first half was one of the most disappointing I've coached since I've been here. ... What you have to realize is, when the tempo is so slow, it's really hard to change it."
And even when Carolina's shots were on target -- four in the first half -- they were saved cleanly by Cleveland goalkeeper Evan Bush, who seemed omnipresent.
But in the second half -- specifically, in the 62nd minute, when Paladini and midfielder Josh Gardner were subbed in -- the pace picked up dramatically.
"When I came in, I talked to Martin a little bit, and he said basically just get the ball moving faster," Paladini said.
They were helped by a 76th-minute red card handed to Alioune Gueye after a studs-up tackle of Carolina's John Gilkerson, reducing the City Stars to 10 men.
Five minutes later, Richardson made his first strike.
When striker Andriy Budnyy made a run to the keeper, Bush couldn't hold onto the ball, and it ricocheted into the right corner.
Richardson found that ball, dribbled past his man and beat Bush to the lower left corner.
Paladini's goal came off another rebound as Richardson took a shot from almost the exact spot where he had scored before. This time, Paladini was inside the box and waiting to convert the rebound for a 2-0 lead.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-8925