He’s only one player, but a ripple effect from defender Gale Agbossoumonde’s first home start brought the winless Carolina RailHawks as close to a win as they had been for some time.
But a win is still left on Carolina’s things-to-do list for the 2012 season, as they tied the North American Soccer League-leading Puerto Rico Islanders 1-1 at home Saturday night.
The under-23 U.S. men’s national team player was a much-anticipated addition in the offseason, but he missed the team’s first seven games with a turf-toe injury. The RailHawks (0-4-5) struggled in a number of areas, with no bigger woe than the back line.
Agbossoumonde – expected to start right away when he was signed – said even he could tell that other players gained more confidence.
Left back Kupono Low and right back Cory Elenio turned in good performances, and center back Austen King played one of his better games.
Agbossoumonde wasn’t shy about possessing and then playing the ball from the back to the midfield, which jump-started some opportunities for the Carolina offense.
“They were giving up a lot of goals, and in training they expected me to come in and help,” Agbossoumonde said. “With me playing out of the back, the team played through the midfield and then everyone gets confident. Once we connected a couple of passes, we were like, ‘We can do this.’ It builds on. At one point I think we had like 20 passes and then got a good look at the goal.”
King is 22 while Agbossoumonde is 20, but Carolina coach Colin Clarke liked what the two hulking center backs were able to do side by side.
“(Agbossoumonde) and Austen King will forge a very good partnership that will take us where we need to go this year. I think they got better from last week. They played against one of the best front lines in the league,” Clarke said. “For 80-90 minutes we kept them quiet and didn’t give them a lot of chances.”
Puerto Rico (5-1-2) did, however, take advantage of a close free kick in the 33rd minute. A cross from just left of the box that was headed at the back post by Jay Needham to the near post, where Jonathan Fana chested it in.
The score stayed 1-0 at halftime despite Carolina having the advantages in corner kicks (7-1) and possession.
The RailHawks did level in the 49th minute as Nick Zimmerman kept a ball from going out for a goal kick, kept it in the air before crossing it high to the opposite corner of the box where Brian Shriver took a touch and buried it.
Carolina had at least three more close opportunities, but an open header by Brian Ackley was pushed wide, a long strike by Zimmerman was negated for offside and a header by Mike Palacio just missed.
“As far as how we played, performed, I thought we were magnificent,” Clarke said.
Midfielders Austin da Luz, a Wake Forest graduate, and Breiner Ortiz, 20, got their first starts of the season and improved the team’s passing. Clarke credited da Luz creating opportunities and added that Ortiz, who played more of a defensive role, had, “a great first start.”
Carolina is still winless in league play but will take a break from that Tuesday at home as it hosts PSA Elite in the first round of the U.S. Open Cup. A win means the team will host the LA Galaxy the following week in the second round.
“We dominated the game for long stretches tonight,” da Luz said. “We can play all the pretty soccer we want, but at the end of the day you’ve got to be a team to grind out results even when things aren’t going your way.