An up-and-down North American Soccer spring season ended with the Carolina RailHawks in surprisingly good position after a 1-1 tie with Minnesota United on Saturday night.
The RailHawks (3-2-5, W-L-T), who entered the night second in the NASL table, may fall from that perch as the rest of the NASL finishes its schedule next week.
But for now, they are tied with Minnesota United (3-1-5, W-L-T) for third with a month-long break until the fall season opens on July 4.
The NASL playoffs have four spots, one to the spring champ, one to the fall champ and the two others go to teams with the best overall record. Regardless of where they end up in the standings after next week, the RailHawks will have a decent record going into the fall.
“We’ve got to put in some hard work these next four or five weeks to be better going into the fall season,” Carolina coach Colin Clarke said. “It’s going to be long, hard slog – 20 games. You can see how tight things are.”
Turning point: After an uneventful and scoreless first half, Carolina’s Tiyi Shipalane got free on the right side and crossed into the 18-yard box to find Nacho Novo in the 80th minute. Novo headed the ball past the keeper at far post to salvage a tie.
“(Novo) is a top-class player who knows how to get free in the box and where to go and when to go and Tiyi is seeing that now and knowing what ball he’s looking for,” Clarke said. “The relationship is starting to build.”
They said it: Six minutes after his goal, Novo was sent off with a red card after tackling Juliano Vicentini from behind. Clarke was critical of referee Mark Kadlecik’s decision and said the team would consider asking the league to rescind it.
“I saw a bad refereeing decision,” Clarke said. “There are some referees that – particularly him, here – never does anything good. He’s always got to get involved somehow in the game with a bad decision and he done it again tonight.”
Three who mattered
J.C. Banks, Minnesota: Side-stepped Neil Hlavaty and scored the game’s first goal in the 48th minute. The shot from outside the penalty box took a deflection off a sliding Futty Danso.
Akira Fitzgerald, Carolina: The RailHawks goalkeeper made enough stops – including two in stoppage time – to keep the RailHawks in it.
Tiyi Shipalane, Carolina: Shipalane notched his fourth assist of the season, which ties him for second-most in the NASL.
▪ The RailHawks’ conceded goal was their first in NASL play since the return of Akira Fitzgerald, who helped the team to 1-0 and 4-0 wins over the last two weeks since joining the team on loan from Major League Soccer’s New York City FC. The loan expires before the fall season.
“We would love to keep him,” Clarke said, hopeful the team can get Fitzgerald back for the fall. “There’s just a lot of moving pieces.”
▪ The RailHawks ended the spring season 1-1-3 at home but 2-1-2 on the road. The latter half of that stat is encouraging given the team’s horrid record on the road over the past two seasons. Also encouraging: ending the NASL spring season with two wins and a two ties.
“Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” Clarke said. “I think these last four games we’ve seen what we’re about.”
▪ RailHawks non-starters scored just one second-half goal in the spring: Simone Bracallelo’s stoppage time tally in the NASL opener. Bracallelo has only played in three contests after suffering an early injury.
▪ Minnesota was without Miguel Ibarra, who is playing with the U.S. national team. Ibarra is the only NASL player on the team.