DeCock: Victory continues to elude RailHawks, although not for lack of trying

Mere hours after Bayern Munich squandered countless chances to put Chelsea away in the Champions League final before losing on penalty kicks, the Carolina RailHawks demonstrated that the same scenario is just as painful at a far lower level of soccer.

The Puerto Rico Islanders didn’t need penalty kicks to beat the RailHawks, who dominated almost the entire game. They just waited for the RailHawks to make yet another crippling mistake in a season full of them. It took 33 minutes.

The RailHawks tied the score early in the second half and kept firing away at the Puerto Rico net but without success in a 1-1 draw. It wasn’t a loss, but it wasn’t a win, either, and after nine games and six weeks, the RailHawks are still looking for their first.

They were denied what should have been an early penalty on a clear handball in the box and fell behind 1-0 on a poorly defended free kick.

Brian Shriver tied the score in the 49th minute after Nick Zimmerman kept the ball in play on the end line and floated it back into the box for Shriver to volley low into the far side of the net. That gave the RailHawks instant confidence – Austin Da Luz had a laser shot palmed away only minutes later, and Zimmerman fired one into the top corner from 20 yards out that was ruled offside – but not instant scoring.

The RailHawks have given up early goals on the road, blown big leads at home and found innovative ways to lose games they probably should have won. Shriver, the goal-scorer, failed to connect with a Zimmerman cross in the first half with the net wide open before him. Second-half substitute Brian Ackley was left completely alone at the far post – and headed the ball all the way back across the net.

Making Saturday’s loss all the more painful were the circumstances. The Islanders, in first place in the NASL, were until this season coached by Colin Clarke, who thought he was moving up in the world when he took the RailHawks’ job this spring. Instead, the RailHawks are 0-4-5 and in seventh place in an eight-team league.

This wasn’t the plan: Clarke wasn’t supposed to be looking for his first win as RailHawks coach against his former team in mid-May.