CARY — The Carolina RailHawks are entering the stage of the season where every game feels like a playoff round, which happens quickly in the North American Soccer League’s split season format.
After tying the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-2 Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park, the RailHawks are tied for second at the halfway point of the NASL’s fall season.
Five NASL teams are within two points at the top. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers, tied for fourth, could be in first if they win Sunday.
As the RailHawks try to win the fall season and earn a spot in the NASL Soccer Bowl at Atlanta, every game is an important one.
“It’s getting to that point of the year where we need to stand up and be accountable,” coach Colin Clarke said.
After collapsing in the spring season, where the RailHawks needed one win over its past two games to clinch hosting the Soccer Bowl, the team has rebounded in the fall.
“We were heartbroken at the end of the first season to not come away with it,” captain Austin Da Luz said. “We’re right in the mix again. Hopefully we can separate ourselves a little bit more in the next couple of weeks. We know how that feels like to have it slip through our fingers. This time, hopefully we’ll be a little bit mentally stronger and close it out.”
Carolina has yet to lose a game at home this season. Its first four games of the fall (3-0-1, one goal conceded) were stronger than the most recent three (0-2-1, six goals conceded).
Tampa Bay and the RailHawks entered the weekend in a three-way tie for first.
Carolina went on top first in Saturday’s game with a 30th-minute goal from Tiyi Shipalane, who sent home a rebound.
Two counterattack goals from Tampa Bay (2-0-5, 11 points) in the second half – a 72nd-minute goal from Evan Frimpong and a 74th-minute one from Jay Needham – put Carolina down quickly.
But the RailHawks, as they’ve done often this season, had a 90th-minute answer.
After defender Julius James took a crack, the blocked shot settled at the feet of captain Da Luz, who took a touch to his left and slotted in the tying goal.
While the heroics have been a staple of the RailHawks (3-2-2, 11 points) games this season, Clarke wishes his team would turn the corner.
Carolina had 10 shots on target in the first half, compared to Tampa Bay’s one, but led only 1-0.
“We talk about how good we are and how great we are, but looking at it, we need to be better. Right now, if we want to win this championship, we have to start putting teams away,” Clarke said. “We’ve got to find that character, that mental strength, to be a little more ruthless in front of goal.”