Commentary

DeCock: RailHawks’ upset win a great night for soccer in the Triangle

ldecock@newsobserver.comMay 29, 2012 

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RailHawk fans celebrate Brian Shriver's game winning goal at 87:59 during their game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, securing a 2-1 victory on Tuesday May 29, 2012 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— When Nick Zimmerman turned to the stands and raised his arms to incite the crowd after the game-tying goal, there wasn’t much change in the noise level, and not because there weren’t many people in the stands at WakeMed Soccer Park.

On this night, with a franchise-record 7,939 fans in the stands, it couldn’t possibly get any louder.

There was no David Beckham when the Los Angeles Galaxy came to town Tuesday, but there was Ty Shipalane. The Carolina RailHawks substitute needed 13 minutes to turn the game around, blowing past a Galaxy defender to tie the score before setting up Brian Shriver in the 88th minute for a stunning 2-1 upset of the defending MLS champions.

The RailHawks haven’t won an NASL match yet, but they’re 1-0 against MLS teams and through to the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.

What a night for soccer in the Triangle: The roar when the final whistle blew was deafening, and unprecedented. There have been larger crowds in the state for international matches and NCAA championships, but never one entirely partisan like this, never one stoked to a frenzy by a remarkable second-half comeback.

“To come out and beat the L.A. Galaxy is huge for us,” Shriver said. “It’s huge for the whole soccer community. Hopefully we’re going to bring this kind of atmosphere out to all the games.”

There could be another MLS visit next week, if Chivas USA can get past Ventura County Fusion in Tuesday night’s late game. The RailHawks have the right to host that game, although Chivas could make them an offer to buy those rights and host the game in California. Traffic Sports, which owns the RailHawks, would have a say in that business decision, so while the RailHawks announced plans to sell tickets Wednesday, there’s no 100-percent guarantee that game is played in Cary.

It should be, of course: There are almost 8,000 reasons why another MLS team should be playing here next week. Whether MLS should be coming here permanently is another question, and Tuesday went a long way toward strengthening that case.

It was only eight weeks ago that MLS failed to offer much optimism to the Triangle when it came to expansion. If the league paid attention Tuesday, it would have seen the Galaxy playing without its most marketable and popular stars – Beckham, Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane – to a packed house anyway.

“I think the people here are always really good supporters of the teams,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said, impressed with the atmosphere. They’re very fair as fans. I think the facility is wonderful.”

It is a great facility, but Tuesday also served as a reminder that it isn’t yet up to MLS standards. Even when the new upper deck rising above the east stands is completed, WakeMed will still remain well short of what MLS teams typically average, while the lack of direct access from I-40 created fears of gridlock. The Town of Cary started sending out traffic alerts at noon Tuesday to warn of the potential for a rush-hour apocalypse on East Chatham Street.

As it turned out, the traffic moved slowly, but it moved, and the stadium was almost completely full by opening kickoff. Regardless of the stadium, the interest is there. Tuesday proved that.

“When I see the tickets sell out in three hours, we know the fan base is here,” RailHawks coach Colin Clarke said. “Nights like this are what it is all about.”

When it was over, the RailHawks celebrated with their hard-core supporters in Section 309, engulfed in billowing clouds of orange smoke while fans took cell-phone pictures of the scoreboard, photographic souvenirs of a great night for soccer in the Triangle.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com(919) 829-8947Twitter: @LukeDeCock

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