CARY — For the first time this season, coach Colin Clarke gathered his team at midfield immediately after a game. He told his team he was proud of the character they had shown, then told them to let this be the start of a new run.
The RailHawks trailed by one goal twice in a game that they needed in order to hold onto their place as the last team in North American Soccer League playoffs. And as has been a tendency this year in WakeMed Soccer Park, a late goal was the deciding factor.
The RailHawks have fallen victim to late goals and benefited from others.
But this time it was super substitute Tiyi Shipalane, who weaved through three defenders through the middle of the box before tucking in the stoppage time game-winner for a 3-2 victory.
As the season winds down, playoff implications are looming large, but this six-point swing was important given what’s left of the 2012 season — five of the last seven games are on the road.
“This was like a playoff game,” Clarke said. “In many ways, I’m looking forward to those games on the road because it’s going to tell me a lot about this team as we go into the playoffs.”
Four of those remaining games are against the first, second and third teams in the NASL — San Antonio, Tampa Bay and Puerto Rico.
Both statistics don’t fare well for the RailHawks, who are just 1-6-2 on the road this season.
The Edmonton (5-11-6) loss puts Carolina (7-7-7) seven points clear in the fight for sixth place.
Shipalane was set to check into the game earlier, then was brought back to the sideline after Zack Shilawski one-touched in a cross from Mike Palacio in the 79th minute that leveled the score at 2-2.
Palacio, one of three subs used by Carolina, was also given the assist for playing the ball to Shipalane in stoppage time.
“We were talking about it when we were on the (sideline), that we can beat these guys just by combining, and that’s exactly what we did,” said Shipalane, who was subbed in during the 85th minute.
Nick Zimmerman scored his team-high 12th goal of the year in the 30th minute, finishing off a long run along the right side, to make it 1-1.
Clarke wants to settle on a starting 11 before the final four games of the regular season, but he had a battered lineup on Saturday, playing without three usual starters. Goalkeeper Ray Burse (personal reasons), and midfielders Austin da Luz (injury) and Breiner Ortiz (injury) were out, and Clarke started two defenders — Greg Shields and Sam Stockley — who have spent most of this season on the bench.
Poor defending gave up a goal in the 9th minute, as Paul Craig took a RailHawks giveaway and ripped a reverse curler from 20 yards, and again in the 72nd as Kyle Porter banged in a go-ahead goal after a long run from near midfield to the top of the box.