NCFC & NC Courage

RailHawks’ tie with Fort Lauderdale keeps NASL postseason hopes in limbo

Carolina’s Devon Sandoval, right, heads a ball past the Strikers Rafael Alves on Saturday.
Carolina’s Devon Sandoval, right, heads a ball past the Strikers Rafael Alves on Saturday.

With the season on the line Saturday, the Carolina RailHawks played 90 minutes and wound up in almost the same situation.

Needing a win or tie to stay alive in the North American Soccer League playoff race, Carolina did the latter, finishing in a 1-1 tie with a team they were battling for the fourth and final postseason spot, the visiting Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

With two games to go, the RailHawks still have work to do. A win next week is almost necessary. Carolina would need help if it ties at Atlanta and be eliminated with a loss.

But for now, it’s still in the race.

“It’s not over, but it’s not in our control, which is the disappointing part,” Carolina coach Colin Clarke said.

Breaking out of their 301-minute scoring drought was a big reason why the RailHawks can hope one more week for a playoff spot.

A cheeky backheel by RailHawks forward Nacho Novo in the 82nd minute from the top of the 6-yard box leveled the game late. Tiyi Shipalane got the assist.

The RailHawks are 10-11-4 (34 points) overall and in fifth place, tied with FC Edmonton (9-9-7, 34 points) and two points behind the Strikers (10-9-6, 36 points).

“Nothing is finished yet,” Novo said.

Fort Lauderdale and Edmonton face off next week, and the RailHawks would lose the tiebreaker – goal differential – against both.

Fort Lauderdale kept its playoff hopes going as Mark Anderson scored an unmarked 67th minute goal from the top of the box to put the Strikers up 1-0.

The scoreless first half was so lackluster, the two teams combined for just one save. Clarke said the Strikers were packing it in in the first half and picking their spots for counterattacks.

Atlanta, the RailHawks’ next opponent, is already eliminated from the postseason.

Carolina then hosts Minnesota the following week in the NASL finale. By winning the NASL spring season, Minnesota has long since claimed a playoff spot and home match in the single-elimination NASL playoffs.

“We need to believe,” Novo said. “We have a good group of players. That’s why I say we need to concentrate and come back on Monday, work really hard and try to get three points at Atlanta. Crazy things happen in football all the time.”