CARY — Players and coaches emerged from the locker room tunnel, stepping further onto the field and into one of the most surreal scenes in Carolina RailHawks’ franchise history.
Some of the last ones to enter the playing field hadn’t been outside since the day before.
The roughly 50 or so fans who were left over from the 3,158 who were at the match’s start at 7:08 p.m. Saturday, surrounded the tunnel and defiantly chanted “RailHawks love the rain!”
The statement couldn’t be proven right or wrong. Four hours went by without soccer.
In its place was plenty of lightning, rain and newly-sprouted mushrooms on the WakeMed Soccer Park pitch.
The shouts of the diehard fans who hadn’t strayed too far from the stadium were all the stadium noise remaining as both sides began their mandatory warm-ups at 11:51 p.m. Saturday.
And at 12:23 a.m. Sunday, the RailHawks picked up where their match against the Minnesota Stars had left off – the 47:29 mark in the second half.
The longest game in franchise history came to its conclusion at 12:58 a.m., with Carolina holding on to a 1-0 win. Cary native Zack Schilawski’s goal, scored in the game’s 10th minute, held up for five and a half hours.
Per North American Soccer League rules, all three parties – officials and both coaches – must agree to call a match. So long as the second half has started, the match can be called early and hold up as a final.
But Stars coach Manny Lagos wouldn’t budge. A win would put Minnesota third in the standings. RailHawks coach Colin Clarke said that the rule needs changing.
“I think somewhere down the line, common sense needs to prevail and the league needs to have a cutoff point. Because, yeah, we can wait here all night, but it’s not healthy for the players,” Clarke said.
Quirks, tempers take over
Tempers were short in the final 42 minutes of the match, including referee Daniel Radford, who could clearly be heard yelling to Lagos: “That’s enough! I’m not going to take it anymore!”
“I thought (the delay) affected (the referee) more than anyone,” Clarke said. Carolina captain Kupono Low was shown two yellow cards after the restart, leaving the RailHawks to play a man down for the final 14 minutes.
Rookie Jamie Finch, a recent graduate from the University of Washington, made his pro debut at 12:44 a.m.
RailHawks midfielder Brian Shriver left the game in the 34th minute - 7:41 p.m. - with a lower back injury.
“It was so long ago, he’s probably fit now,” Clarke said.
The team is offering a buy-one-get-one deal for the next home match on Aug. 4 for the fans who were chased off by the elements.