Last season, the Carolina RailHawks set a record for attendance at 7,939 when they defeated the L.A. Galaxy 2-1, thanks to two late goals in the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
On Wednesday, exactly a year after the historic win for the club, the stage is set for the current record of 8,054 – set against Mexican powerhouse Pumas UNAM – to be broken when the Galaxy once again make the trek to WakeMed Soccer Park at 7 p.m.
“There’s a lot of excitement for this team heading into this one,” RailHawks coach Collin Clarke said. “Last year, we had a really good run in this tournament and that kick-started our season. This year, we’re playing really well coming in and get rewarded with the two-time reigning champs in the MLS, so we’re looking forward to testing our team.”
The RailHawks enter this year’s contest at 3-1-2, with the lone loss to the Atlanta Silverbacks – who lead the NASL points standings. Carolina won its first contest of the U.S. Open Cup handily over the Carolina Dynamo 3-1 last Tuesday at WakeMed Soccer Park.
For the two-time defending MLS champion Galaxy, this season has gotten off to a shaky start at 6-4-2, which is fourth in the Western Conference standings. But L.A. is coming off a dominating 4-0 win Sunday against the Seattle Sounders.
With the new capacity for WakeMed Soccer Park at 10,000, Clarke hopes to see a similar environment to the 2012 matchup.
“I would love the place to be sold out and see our fans out in full force,” Clarke said. “We had a great atmosphere last year and it was a very special night for our franchise. It was a night that will live long in our memories, so we’re looking to go out there and reproduce that (Wednesday) night.”
The Galaxy will be without some firepower when it takes on Carolina. Forward Landon Donovan, the all-time leader in goals scored and assists for the U.S. national team, will sit out because of fatigue, and David Beckham is recently retired. However, one player fans can look forward to seeing take the field for the Galaxy is Robbie Rogers, – the first active openly gay male athlete to compete in a U.S. professional team sport.
While Rogers has made headlines recently for his decision to come out publicly about his sexuality, the former Maryland Terrapin is still an offensive force. He has 19 career goals and 15 career assists.
The 26-year-old said he hopes to contribute between 20 to 30 minutes and doesn’t expect a warm welcome from the Carolina fans.
“I don’t think they’re going to like that I’m here,” he said with a laugh. “I think they’re going to boo me like any other player. I wouldn’t expect anything different.”
On top of /some players not being in attendance, legendary coach Bruce Arena, who coached the U.S. national team from 1998 to 2006, will also be replaced by assistant coach Curt Onalfo, who leads the reserve team.
Last year, Arena admitted that he hadn’t scouted the RailHawks prior to the loss. Despite not being in full force for the contest, Onalfo said his team has done research on Carolina coming into this match.
“We’re very familiar with the team,” Onalfo said. “We know their strengths and we know their weaknesses – they don’t have a whole lot of weaknesses. So there’s a lot of things we have to combat with them as we look at this game. Having said that, we’re ready for the challenge at hand.”
Smith: 919-829-4841; @RCorySmith