CARY — Most numbers were not in the Carolina RailHawks’ favor on Saturday night. They played 20 minutes with nine men on the field and eight for the final two.
They also were outshot 22-7 by the visiting New York Cosmos, which also had a supreme possession advantage – 69 percent to 31.
But only two numbers mattered at the end of the night – the final score, a 1-0 RailHawks win, and the updated home unbeaten streak (18 straight).
Against the odds, Carolina topped the reigning North American Soccer League champions at WakeMed Soccer Park, and coach Colin Clarke was proud of his team’s grit.
“One thing that maybe people have always questioned about this team is, ‘Do they have character?’ We want to play and we like to pass the ball and move it, but what are we going to be like with our backs against the wall?” Clarke said.
“What I was pleased about was the look in our players’ eyes. There was no way the Cosmos were going to score ... This was a battle they were intent to win.”
The war of attrition started after halftime.
In the 56th minute, the Cosmos went to 10 men after Sebastian Guenzatti was sent off. The replay showed that while tangled with Carolina’s Kupono Low, Guenzatti’s right hand connected with Low’s face, knocking him to the pitch.
In the 63rd, a second yellow card for Carolina’s Connor Tobin made it 10-on-10.
Low, who received his first yellow in the skirmish with Guenzatti, got his second yellow just five minutes later.
The RailHawks (2-1-1) were down to just nine players against New York’s 10.
The score stayed 1-0 into stoppage time, when RailHawks sub Uriah Bentick hurt his ankle and needed to be taken off on a stretcher. Carolina ended the game with eight.
The Cosmos (2-2-0) had plenty of tries on goal, but goalkeeper Akira Fitgerald was up to the task with six saves.
The only tally of the game came thanks to Cesar Elizondo’s hard work and first-half breakaway. With the Cosmos in Carolina’s attacking third, Elizondo fought the ball off a New York defender and started a 3-on-2 break.
With a head full of steam, the 26-year-old Costa Rican midfielder juked one defender before laying a pass for Tiyi Shipalane. Shipalane’s first shot was saved by goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer but he volleyd in the rebound for a 12th-minute goal.
After a 4-0 road loss last week, the RailHawks made a switch in the back line. Toni Stahl and Tobin swapped spots, putting Tobin at right back and Stahl in the center.
“It’s not too big of an adjustment, at least I didn’t feel it,” Stahl said. “When you have a 4-0 loss, you need something to be shaken up. I think we did a fantastic job tonight as a whole group.”
Clarke did not specify how he will handle the back line next week. He will be without Low and Tobin for their double yellow cards and likely Bentick for injury.
It leaves Carolina with just four eligible defenders to play in its road contest against the explosive San Antonio Scorpions: Stahl, Daniel Scott, Austen King and Jordan Burt.
Another change from last week, former Duke player Mike Grella started a the second forward position instead of Enzo Martinez, who subbed in late.
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