CARY — The Carolina RailHawks have a month off before they start the NASLs fall half-season, and after a tough couple of weeks, theres no question they need the break.
They blew not one but two chances to win the leagues first-half title, which also would have meant hosting the championship match in November. They crashed out of the U.S. Open Cup in the process, after resting starters in a quarterfinal loss at MLS team Real Salt Lake to concentrate on the league. And a lucrative friendly with Mexican league team Puebla at WakeMed Soccer Park last Saturday was indefinitely postponed because a volcanic eruption kept the team from leaving Mexico.
Still, for a franchise that not long ago had its mascot and trademark up for auction on eBay, this is nothing. Despite the recent blemishes on an otherwise sterling summer campaign, the RailHawks have become one of the rapidly growing NASLs model franchises.
Everything is very fundamentally sound, NASL commissioner Bill Peterson said. The club continues to grow its attendance and the following. Its a great club in our league. I think theyve done an amazing job the last two years
Since the RailHawks nearly folded in January 2011, quite a bit has changed for the soccer team, which is in the midst of its seventh season at WakeMed, although more change may be coming. Traffic Sports, which saved the RailHawks from dissolution three winters ago when their locally based owners bailed out, owns three NASL teams and is going to have to divest itself from two of them eventually.
The RailHawks may be the most attractive proposition of the three. Team president Curt Johnson said he has frequent conversations with potential local investors, but both he and Peterson maintain theres no time pressure.
The league was fortunate (Traffic) was able to step in and sustain it, Peterson said. They did that because they believe in the area and professional soccer in this area. They felt they could build a strong club and theyre on their way to doing that. But its never been their plan or anyone elses plan to manage multiple teams. Theres no deadline. No timetable.
The New York Cosmos will join in August for the fall half of the schedule, giving the NASL eight teams. The league will have 11 next season with the addition of franchises in Virginia, Ottawa and Indianapolis and the goal is 18 by 2018, Peterson said, with Oklahoma City potentially the first of several cities in line to join in 2015.
One of Petersons goals for the league is participating in what he calls the global soccer economy essentially, making a profit by finding young or overlooked players, giving them a chance to play and selling them to bigger clubs. Its part of his pitch to prospective new owners, but its always been a part of the RailHawks business model.
The team recently collected an additional fee when former defender Brad Rusin, who the RailHawks sold to a Danish club, was sold to Vancouver (MLS) to rejoin former RailHawks coach Martin Rennie. Many of their current players were signed with an eye to future sales as well as their performance on the field which remains a point of pride despite the recent disappointments.
Weve been knocking at the door the last three or four years, even before we got here, and other than the regular-season title in 2011, weve fallen a bit short, Johnson said. If you look across all sports, teams that are continually competitive like that do eventually break through.
As NASL undergoes rapid expansion, the RailHawks are setting the tone not just by what they have done, but how they have done it. The franchise has stabilized, now results on the field need to follow.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947