Commentary

DeCock: RailHawks advance to US Open Cup quarterfinals

ldecock@newsobserver.comJune 12, 2013 

— When the Carolina RailHawks upset the Los Angeles Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup last summer, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena admitted he had no idea who Ty Shipalane was, even after Shipalane scored one goal and set up another.

Maybe at some point MLS teams will start paying attention to the South African midfielder who keeps tearing them apart.

Shipalane did it again Wednesday, scoring once against Chivas USA and setting up the winning goal in extra time as the RailHawks advanced to the Open Cup quarterfinals with a 3-1 win.

They beat the Galaxy last summer and did it again two weeks ago (Arena didn’t even bother to make the trip this time around), but they couldn’t get past Chivas last June. Now, they’re closer to the Cup than they have been in six years.

And while last year’s cup run jump-started their otherwise stalled NASL campaign, this year, they’re in first place in the league. They’re playing with real confidence, opportunistic on offense and organized on defense, and while the Galaxy sent its second string again, Chivas is dead last in the Western Conference. This was all it had to play for, and Chivas sent its full lineup, to no avail.

The RailHawks will now travel to the winner of Wednesday night’s late game between Real Salt Lake (MLS) and Charleston Battery (USL Pro) on June 26, and whether they have to go across the country or across the state’s southern border, it would be hard to count the RailHawks out at this point, no matter who they play.

This kind of cup competition is an oddity in American sports but a staple of the soccer world. England’s FA Cup goes 14 rounds and includes every team from Manchester United and Chelsea to the smallest of the small, part-time and amateur teams that typically draw crowds in the tens. Imagine a basketball tournament that included both the Miami Heat and Garner Road AAU team, however slim the possibility they might actually play each other, and you get the idea.

The Open Cup offers a similar opportunity to American amateur teams – the RailHawks hosted one last summer – but it’s the potential matchups with MLS teams that make it an important part of the RailHawks’ season, giving them a chance to measure themselves against teams and players at the next level.

They’re 4-3 all-time against MLS opposition, and made it to the semifinals in 2007 before losing to the New England Revolution in Hartford, Conn. This year, there were four lower-division teams in the final 16. The RailHawks are moving on. The other three played late Wednesday.

A year after the RailHawks scored the opening goal before Chivas answered and scored in stoppage time – a Juan Pablo Angel penalty – the RailHawks scored the opening goal before Chivas answered and nearly scored in stoppage time.

The RailHawks twice cleared the ball off their own goal line, although it might not have come down to that had they been given what appeared to be a clear-cut penalty kick in the 78th minute when Shipalane was barged over in the box.

But it was all Carolina in extra time, Shipalane bursting down the right wing and delaying just long enough for Cesar Elizondo to get into position before sending in the cross. Brian Ackley made it 3-1 by heading in a corner six minutes later, and the RailHawks were on their way to the quarterfinals.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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