Despite improved play of late, there was an unwelcome but familiar feel to the Carolina RailHawks home match Saturday after the visiting Puerto Rico Islanders evened the score in the 79th minute. Carolina had lost late leads in two previous home games, only to come away with ties. And the RailHawks were still winless in North American Soccer League play.
But on Saturday, Carolina had a response.
In the 88th minute, a goal kick from Ray Burse went to the front of the formation, missing defenders and attackers, and bounced in between an Islanders defender and the goalkeeper. Reserve midfielder Ty Shipalane found the space in between and chipped a shot over the keeper’s head to cap a 2-1 victory, giving the RailHawks their first league win.
More telling of the change from the season’s starters to the current group was this group down the NASL league leaders while playing the last 63 minutes a man down.
“The team showed a lot of heart, character to come out on the right side,” said RailHawks coach Colin Clarke. “It wasn’t a case of we snuck it or stole it, we deserved it. We were the better team who passed it and moved it and created chances despite 10 men.”
Defender Gale Agbossoumonde was given a red card as he left his feet to tackle Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Fana from behind in the 37th minute. No protest came from the Carolina side, and Fana stayed down on the pitch until he was carried off on a stretcher with players from both sides concerned.
Before the half had ended, though, Fana ran out of the tunnel and onto the field. RailHawks players had words for Fana, and players from both sides had to be separated. The crowd booed Fana throughout the game’s duration, and the harsh words didn’t stop even after the game as Burse – who had to be restrained as he yelled at Fana while both teams entered the tunnel at halftime – ripped his former teammate.
“I felt like at no time any player on the field should, one, fake an injury, and two, cry on the field. This is a man’s game. He’s far from it. And it should be embarrassing to him and everyone on that team that he acted in the manner in which he did,” Burse said. “All of us know what he did. And revenge is good in the form of a victory.”
In the second half, the RailHawks had two free kicks from just outside the top of the box. The second, by Austin da Luz in the 52nd minute, took a deflection off Puerto Rico defender Alexis Rivera and went in for a Carolina goal. It was ruled an own goal, giving the RailHawks a 1-0 lead.
The lead held until the 79th, when Fana and teammate Jay Needham worked a two-man game in the box that ended with Fana reciprocating a pass to Needham for the Islanders’ only goal.
Carolina never changed its aggressive form on Puerto Rico, despite having one fewer player, and continued to push for a goal that was rewarded with Shipalane’s chip in the 88th. Shipalane had also scored in the 88th minute during Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup victory against the LA Galaxy.
“I was able to sneak in between the. … There was not much to do but to finish it,” Shipalane said. “I guess (88) is the magic number.”
The RailHawks will turn their attention back to the Open Cup on Tuesday, when it hosts Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA. Clarke said he will have to evaluate what starters – the team has used the same starting lineup in its last four games (3-0-1), but those have all come within the last 15 days.
Agbossoumonde’s red card means he will have to sit the next NASL game, but will not affect his status for the fourth round of the Open Cup. Team officials said that there are less than 1,600 tickets left for Tuesday.