CARY — After a game and a half of some rocky play, the kinks started to sort themselves out in the second half of the Carolina RailHawks, and the result was a 2-1 North American Soccer League home-opening win in front of 5,003 fans.
Carolina beat FC Edmonton thanks in part to how things began to settled down in the final 45 minutes.
Better possession in the final third and a reduction of giveaways were the recipe for the RailHawks’ first win of the year.
“For our second game, to string passes together the way we did tonight was encouraging,” said Middle Creek High and Wake Forest University grad Nick Millington.
Carolina (1-0-1, 4 pts.) is tied for the most points in the NASL, which may not seem important two games into the year if not for the new season format, which trims the year into a 12-game mini-season with a spot in the year-ending NASL Soccer Bowl given to the No. 1 team.
The 14-game fall season starts in August.
At first, the RailHawks had trouble settling the ball in the box, and Edmonton’s large back line did well to turn some of Carolina’s chances into counterattacking opportunities. Twice, Edmonton hit the post.
“In the first half, we would string a few good passes together, and then they would break out,” Millington said.
In the second half, Carolina midfielder Austin da Luz, a Wake Forest University graduate, strung together passes that caused the team to gain momentum.
It paid off in the 52nd minute, when Tiyi Shipalane’s work along the right side freed him up for a bending cross across to box to da Luz, who shouldered it in.
“Now that I’m playing out wide I’m trying to get into the box a little more and get on the end of things,” da Luz said.
In the 71st minute, North Carolina graduate Brian Shriver – who had just put a shot over goal six minute earlier after a feed from da Luz – struck a 20-yard free kick into the upper left corner of the net. The winger hadn’t taken many free kicks last year, but had worked on them heavily in the offseason and the week leading up to Saturday’s match.
“It was a good spot for a right-footer,” Shriver said. “I just tried to hit it with some pace.”
Edmonton found a hole in the Carolina defense in stoppage time to make for a nerve-wracking final few minutes for the RailHawks.
Carolina, already without center back Paul Hamilton, who was sitting out after drawing two yellow cards in the season opener, saw replacement Julius James leave the game at halftime with a pulled hamstring.
Greg Shields came off the bench to play out of his natural position the rest of the way.
RailHawks coach Colin Clarke said after the game that forward Nick Addlery would undergo surgery on his knee Monday to clean it out. He is expected to missed 3-4 weeks.
Blake: 919-460-2606; On Twitter: @SWakeSports