CARY — The RailHawks were already preparing for the North American Soccer League playoffs even before Saturday’s season finale.
Carolina’s lineup used an assortment of players, aside from goalkeeper Ray Burse, who were either nursing injuries or haven’t seen much action this year.
And thanks to their 0-0 draw against the visiting Tampa Bay Rowdies, the Carolina RailHawks will be seeded fourth in this upcoming Saturday’s playoffs.
Depending on the results of Sunday’s games, Carolina – unbeaten in six of its last seven – will host either the Fort Lauderdale Strikers or Minnesota Stars in a one-game elimination round.
“The last two weeks have been a testament to how much we’ve overcome,” Burse said. “Hopefully we have three more home games left in the postseason.”
The difference between being seeded third or fourth in the NASL playoffs is negligible, but as coach Colin Clarke pointed out, it could mean which team gets to host the final leg in the home-and-away championship final should third-seeded Puerto Rico and Carolina meet.
After three games in eight days, Clarke wanted to rest many of his starters.
“Their bodies needed a break and I didn’t want to risk injuring anybody for what was important as obviously next week,” Clarke said. “Now I’ve got a lot of thinking to do before this time next week to see who I feel needs to get on the field for us to win in the playoffs.”
Two of those who have been nursing injuries left the field injured again on Saturday. Forward Brian Ackley left in the 19th minute after re-aggravating a hamstring injury, while Breiner Ortiz was only believed to be suffering from cramps when he was removed in the 72nd minute.
On a recent road stint, where the RailHawks went 1-0-2, Clarke shifted his formation from a 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 with different players serving as the forwards.
But no sooner did that shift occur, and find success, than forward Zack Schilwawski broke his foot and is out for the year. With Ackley hurt again, newcomer Matt Luzunaris is being relied on early.
“When we went on the road we set to go out 4-4-2 and be more solid and put teams under pressure further up the field. And that’s worked. We had some great results on the road,” Clarke said. “I’ll decide what to do before the game next weekend because we’ve had some success playing both ways, 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 or 4-3-3, whatever you want to call it.”
Luzunaris, who completed his season with third-division franchise Orlando City before being loaned to Carolina, went the full 90 on Saturday but put just one of his four shots on target. His role changed quickly when Ackley went out with injury as the team was forced to return to a 4-5-1 with Luzunaris up top.
“Yesterday was my first full training with the team,” said Luzunaris, who last played a match three games ago. “I’m not 100 percent right now, but I think by next weekend I’ll be good to go.”
Two other newcomers – right back Jordan Graye and center back Henry Kalungi – each started the last two road games and impressed Clarke enough to be rested in the season finale.