The importance of defending the home field has never been more important for the Carolina RailHawks, who have just nine games in the North American Soccer League’s spring season – with the winner receiving an automatic playoff berth.
WakeMed Soccer Park is still sweet for the team, which extended its unbeaten home streak to 17 games dating back to last season with a 4-1 win against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
The RailHawks (1-0-1, W-L-T) are in good position with seven games left in the spring, thanks to two goals apiece from Enzo Martinez and Zack Schilawski on Saturday night.
“There was a little bit of pressure on us, I thought, tonight,” coach Colin Clarke said. “There was a little bit of that apprehension. We hadn’t been beaten here in a long time, it was the second game of the season. I thought we’ve done great all over the field. Great performances.”
The first goal came after RailHawks midfielder Cesar Elizondo was knocked over and drew a penalty kick in the 26th minute.
Martinez took the PK in the 27th and smoothly slotted it to the right side.
“The most important thing at that moment was to be calm,” Martinez said. “The hardest is getting that first (goal) and the rest – it comes your way.”
Later in the first half, on a bad Fort Lauderdale giveaway in the Strikers’ defending third, Tiyi Shipalane stepped in front of the pass and led a 3-on-2 counterattack.
Shipalane went to his left and found Cary native Schilawski, who doubled the lead to 2-0 in the 40th minute.
“It was certainly nice to get some reward for my effort tonight and be on the end of some good play by the team,” Schilawski said. “I think both of my goals just benefited from good passing and good work rate from my teammates.”
In the second half, it didn’t take long for Fort Lauderdale (1-1-0) to get on the board. The RailHawks survived a corner kick, but didn’t defend an ensuing cross well.
Former RailHawks player Chris Nurse found a loose ball on the second bounce and knocked it in to cut the lead to 2-1 in the 47th minute.
On a night when much of the RailHawks’ passing was lacking, a few deft touches in the final 20 minutes put away the game for good.
Schilawski’s through ball to Martinez in the 72nd minute freed up his teammate for a turn-and-fire strike into the left side.
In the 76th, Elizondo’s cutting through ball to Schilawski allowed the forward to step around the goalkeeper and tap in his second of the night and third of the year.
“Fort Lauderdale did a great job of coming in, sitting behind the ball. They were really compact in the middle and it made it hard for us,” Martinez said. “I just love how the team doesn’t go for a mentality of ‘Oh, it’s not working – let’s just kick the ball.’ No, their mentality is ‘Let’s keep trying, let’s keep trying.’ That’s our identity.”