CARY — The RailHawks went into a game knowing the other team had more talent and the home crowd would be largely for the visitors. They weren’t proven wrong on either account, yet Carolina was upbeat after a 2-1 loss to Pumas UNAM, a Mexican first-division team.
Pumas, which brought plenty of contributors and a few starters to the match, had more speed and played faster than the Vancouver Whitecaps, the RailHawks’ last preseason opponent, which won 4-0 late last month.
But the RailHawks avoided a knockout blow. With the North American Soccer League set to start, RailHawks coach Colin Clarke took some solace, saying, “we won’t be playing against Pumas every weekend.”
“They’re a very, very good team. Let’s be honest. They’re sixth in their division and on the rise,” said coach Colin Clarke.
The 8,054 on hand set an attendance record for a RailHawks home match. From the outset, fans who were at the game to watch Pumas were rejoicing with the team’s high-pressured attack that led to RailHawks’ mistakes.
Pumas’ pressure-driven 3-4-3 formation helped force the first two goals. Carolina’s Floyd Franks chipped the ball into his own net in the 16th.
The movement also led to a bad giveaway from Ty Shipalane, leading to a second Pumas goal in the 41st.
But those giveaways were made by midfielders, not the back line that struggled so mightily last season for Carolina. Center back Austen King was the RailHawks’ best player, according to Clarke, and the rest of the back line stepped up after starter Julius James injured his hamstring in the 18th minute.
Greg Shields moved to center back and Justin Willis played right back.
Goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, who was heckled in unison as the bleachers shook the stadium before his goal kicks, made five saves and faced 16 shots.
“We knew it would be a good test because at times they pushed four or five up front and it looked more like a 3-2-5. We coped with it well. We survived some stuff, but we coped with it very well,” Clarke said. “I thought we showed a lot of positives.”
The RailHawks’ Zack Schilawski, a Cary native, answered back immediately in the 42nd minute for Carolina’s only goal. Brian Shriver, a North Carolina graduate, had the assist.
Despite being outplayed, the RailHawks had a few solid chances – a missed rebound from Schilawski in the 31st, a 61st-minute Shipalane shot that was pushed just wide and a deflected shot by Nick Millington that hit the left post in the 64th.
“The majority were here to watch Pumas, and we understand that,” Clarke said. “But you’d love to think that they’ve seen us and they know that we can play a little bit.”
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