The Carolina RailHawks will open their 2014 season on Saturday when they go to Indianapolis. The team will start the North American Soccer League’s spring season as the first regular-season opponent for expansion franchise Indy Eleven.
For the second straight year, the NASL is using a split-season format.
The winner of the spring season, in which all nine teams will play each other once, will have an automatic home game in a four-game postseason. So too will the fall season winner. What’s new is that they will be joined by the next two teams that have the best overall records from the two seasons combined.
The adding of the two non-season champs might as well be called the “RailHawks rule.” It was Carolina who last season was left out of the playoffs despite having the best overall record between the two seasons, finishing second both times.
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The RailHawks’ offseason was spent re-signing a few players from the year before and filling in roster spots with more young and unproven players than veterans. The exception was adding back defending midfielder Jun Marques Davidson, who spent the last two seasons in Major League Soccer with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Kupono Low, the lone player from the RailHawks’ first season in 2007, is back. So is third-year head coach Colin Clarke.
Returning starters include goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, defender Austen King, midfielders Tiyi Shipalane and Nick Millington and forward Zack Schilawski. Nick Zimmerman, second in franchise history in goals scored, is back after missing the entire 2013 season with injuries.