Though the final score was disheartening, the Carolina RailHawks took away – and showcased – a lot from their 3-0 defeat Saturday at the hands of Liga MX’s Deportivo Toluca FC at WakeMed Soccer Park. The crowd of 9,032, which contained a melting pot of club allegiances, set a club attendance record.
Toluca, members of a league that’s widely regarded as the best in the Americas, gave Carolina the experience against a top flight club that RailHawks coach Colin Clarke said the team needed, but is ready to put in the rearview mirror.
“You look at the scoreline, 3-nil, and maybe you’re disappointed, but for us we played pretty well for long periods of the game,” Clarke said. “We got a good 90 minutes against a very good team under our belt and … we didn’t set ourselves up for this game, we’re setting ourselves up for next weekend’s (league opener vs. the Minnesota United).”
Toluca struck fast on set pieces, and in rapid succession.
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In the 13th minute, the Diablos Rojos tested RailHawks keeper Akira Fitzgerald early. Carolos Rodriguez played the laid-off set piece into the bottom right corner and Fitzgerald rose to the occasion, knocking away the finessed ball. The defensive triumph didn’t last long, however, as Enrique Triverio played the loose ball to a wide open Gerardo Flores for an easy finish.
Two minutes later, a defensive lapse on another set piece cost the RailHawks as Rodriguez played the ball to a wide open Triverio who blasted the ball from six yards out.
“You can’t fall asleep on two set plays against a very good team,” Clarke said. “We’ll learn from it.”
From there, the RailHawks fortunes didn’t improve for the rest of the first half. Set pieces from Guatemalan international Marvin Ceballos brought the supporters in orange to life, but ultimately didn’t result in any real chances.
In the 77th minute, Toluca made it ‘tres a cero’ when Edy Brambilla called his own number, muscling past the Carolina back line and slotting the ball into the bottom right corner.
Despite the scoreboard after the final horn, the RailHawks’ play and intensity improved as the game went on. Aly Hassan and Billy Schuler both had solid efforts saved by Toluca goalkeeper Liborio Sanchez in the closing minutes.
Because of that, Clarke is viewing the match as a platform the team can jump higher from, not one that will lead to a downward spiral.
“We’ve gotten lot better for it, great result, great crowd and magnificent day, there’s so many positives and it was great to be a part of,” Clarke said. “We’ll learn from it.”
Despite being taken advantage of on Toluca’s set piece plays, the RailHawks had the Diablos Rojos on their heels with the accurate touch of newcomer Ceballos on free kicks and corners.
▪ In the second half, Carolina switched to a 4-4-2 that featured several different combinations at forward including Brian Shriver/Ceballos, Shriver/Schuler and lastly Hassan/Schuler.
▪ Nazmi Albdawi donned the captain’s armband for the first time and earned rave reviews from his coach.
“Albadawi was very good when we got him to the middle of the park and on the ball more,” Clake said.
▪ Star midfielders Tiyi Shipalane and Matt Watson made second half entrances to the match after being plagued by the flu.
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“When we made changes in the second half, it changed the game a little bit and gave a different look, which is positive,” Clarke said. “We hadn’t been able to do that in the past as much. It’s always hard (to choose an XI), we have good depth this year.”