The talkative, speedy midfielder and the reserved, crafty forward make quite the pair on the soccer pitch.
Tiyi Shipalane, 29, and Nacho Novo, 36, have come together to propel the Carolina RailHawks to third place in the North American Soccer League standings.
Through 14 games, Shipalane has assisted on a third of Novo’s six goals. But the connection goes beyond well-placed passes. Shipalane’s speed at the midfielder position stretches the field, creating enough separation for him to play balls in for scoring chances. That’s when Novo’s touch and finishing ability pay off.
“It’s common nature,” Shipalane said. “I really don’t have to think much about it, because I know where he’s going to be as soon as I pick the ball up … and he knows what I’m going to do.”
Shipalane also has buried four goals to add to his four assists. Novo, named NASL’s player of the week after scoring two goals Saturday, set up Shipalane for at least one of those.
“I think all the defenders in the league are scared of” Shipalane, said Novo, who returned Saturday after missing nearly two games with a calf injury. “When he’s running fast with the ball on his feet, that’s when you see the quality.”
Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Shipalane came to the United States from South Africa as a teenager and played soccer at Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky. He bounced around different U.S. soccer leagues – he played briefly with Carolina in 2010 before a short stint back in South Africa – before he ended up with the RailHawks in 2012. He is the RailHawks’ leading active scorer with 11 career goals.
Novo, a Spaniard, joined the RailHawks at the tail end of his career. He played for nearly a dozen teams in Europe, including a six-year stay with the Glasgow Rangers, where he won three Scottish Premier League Championships.
Like any new teammates, Shipalane and Novo had to put in extra work to find their groove. Conversations before and after practice about ball placement or timing of runs helped create the chemistry that’s so important in the RailHawks’ offense, which Shipalane said allows players a high degree of freedom and creativity.
The relationship continued to develop off the field. Novo moved into an apartment with Shipalane for the end of the 2014 season, and while they no longer live together, they still get together for cookouts and to hang out at the pool.
So far in 2015, the benefits have been clear.
Shipalane and Novo will look to add to their scoring totals when the RailHawks travel to take on the Ottawa Fury at 3 p.m. Sunday.