Fans got a little bit of everything in the Carolina RailHawks’ season opener – a red card and two penalty kicks, one of which was saved – and a win by the home team. The RailHawks defeated the Ottawa Fury 3-1 to open North American Soccer League play.
There were some changes in the offseason, but the team played the same as it has the past several seasons – keeping the ball on the ground with quick passes that puts pressure on each opposing player.
“That’s our identity, that’s how we play,” midfielder Tiyi Shipalane said.
Three who mattered
Tiyi Shipalane: Netted a 12th-minute goal by curling a shot from the right side of the box into the far side netting. He then drew a penalty in the 29th, which Nacho Novo took. Novo drilled it to the right and the keeper guessed left, giving the RailHawks a 2-0 lead.
Hunter Gilstrap: In his first game with the RailHawks, the goalkeeper was tested early with an Ottawa penalty kick in the 28th. Gilstrap guessed correctly on Carl Haworth’s low shot to the right. One minute later, Shiplane drew his penalty for Carolina.
Daniel Scott: The captain had a solid game at center back, keeping the team organized despite breaking in two new starters to go with a new goalkeeper.
Gilstrap’s save sparked the RailHawks, as did his goal kick that immediately followed.
“PK saves are not something that you don’t necessarily bank on happening. It’s always sort of a bonus because you’re not necessarily expected to save it,” Gilstrap said. “Obviously it makes you feel pretty good, especially when it’s your first real action of the game.”
Even on a windy day, Gilstrap’s goal kick found Novo and led to the RailHawks’ attack where Shipalane drew a foul in the box to set up Novo’s PK.
“Most of the time I don’t hit the target I’m aiming for so I’m glad I did that time,” Gilstrap said.
▪ Shipalane, 29, still has that first step that makes him one of the most feared players in the NASL. He terrorized the Fury early and also showed great touch on his passes in the midfield. In the second half, he flipped from the right side to the left to defend Ottawa’s Paulo Junior and help newcomer Mark Anderson, who started on the left, get more touches.
▪ Injuries forced a few changes in the RailHawks’ opening day lineup. Blake Wagner started at left back ahead of Kupono Low, last year’s captain. Austin Da Luz, also out with injury, was out and Chris Nurse is waiting to fully join the team, so Nazmi Albadawi and Leo Osaki started in the midfield.
▪ Jack Coleman, a Duke product who was just signed days earlier, made his professional debut in the 80th minute. After the game Clarke revealed he only had two healthy subs and Coleman was one.
▪ Ottawa’s only goal of the day was answered. The Fury scored in the 84th as Paulo Junior found Brandon Poltronieri on a header. But the RailHawks responded in stoppage time as reserve Simone Bracalello nutmegged the Ottawa goalkeeper after many players on both sides had stopped on the play, expecting a foul call. “As you tell your 8-year-olds, you’ve got to play to the whistle,” RailHawks coach Colin Clarke said.
▪ After Bracalello’s goal, Ottawa argued for the foul. Former MLS star Julian De Guzman received a yellow card for dissent and, according to his coach, touched the official trying to get his attention – which is an automatic red card.
They said it
Shipalane on his goal: “It was a cross. It just ended up being a goal.”
The RailHawks hit the road to face FC Edmonton next Saturday. Carolina was 4-3-7 on the road in 2014.