Despite Minnesota being selected by many as a favorite to win the North American Soccer League in 2016, Carolina RailHawks coach Colin Clarke wasn’t short on confidence heading into Saturday’s game.
“Oh, we always beat Minnesota,” he chuckled.
After conceding the first goal of the NASL season, the RailHawks responded with two first half goals and held the back line in the second half to claim a 2-1 victory over the United. The ability to battle back and then hold onto a lead seemed almost unfathomable a mere six months ago.
Being an afternoon kick-off, there was no fireworks scheduled for after the game, rather fans were treated to a pair of explosive, highlight reel worthy goals within the match’s first 15 minutes.
Just 126 seconds into the match, Minnesota’s Christian Ramirez volleyed a bouncing ball into the back of the net, giving the Loons an early 1-0 lead and a quick NASL goal of the year candidate.
11 minutes later, Alex Pérez played a 25-yard ball to Tiyi Shipalane, whose chip arced over Minnesota keeper Sammy NDjock and electrified the supporters section behind the south end goal.
“I saw the goalkeeper off his line and I had to make sure that I put it in the back of net,” Shipalane said. “If that that one didn’t go in, I don’t think coach likes chips and stuff. I got away with one.”
Clarke protested, “I like any goal Tiyi scores,” he laughed.
Carolina gained its lead in the 26th minute when eight passes created open space for right back Kareem Moses, whose cross found the head of Austin da Luz for an easy finish.
In the second half, Minnesota continued to search for an equalizer, bringing on the likes of Lance Laing and 2015 Golden Boot winner Stefano Pinho, but ultimately falling short.
After Moses came out proceeding a scary collision with Minnesota’s Bernardo Anor in the 56th minute, his replacement, Simon Mensing, came out for a red card in the 88th minute. Rather than lie back, the RailHawks were able to own possession in the United’s half for the majority of stoppage time with Nazmi Albadawi and Brian Shriver leading the way.
Clarke praised the way the RailHawks stayed aggressive offensively in the second half.
“It’s hard to defend a lead for so long,” Clarke said. “We showed a lot of character and determination, we stuck our head in and made saves and tackles.”
They said it
Being the first match of the year due to an early kickoff time, the RailHawks earned the lone spot atop the NASL table, much to the pleasure of Shipalane.
“It feels awesome. I hope it stays this way the entire season, that’s our aim,” Shipalane said. “It’s what we’re planning on doing.”
Three to know
Austin da Luz, Carolina: da Luz completed 30 passes and scored the game-winning goal for the RailHawks.
“Austin gave our right side a little of a run around in the first half … with (da Luz) clearing space,” Minnesota coach Carl Craig said.
Kareem Moses, Carolina: In his RailHawks debut, Moses held down the defensive side of the pitch with three interceptions, but also made key contributions on offense end.
Damion Lowe, Minnesota: Lowe, on loan from MLS’s Seattle Sounders FC, assisted the United’s first goal and wreaked havoc in Carolina’s attack, single handedly preventing the score from getting out of hand.
By the numbers
8-to-2: The RailHawks only edged the United 10-9 in shots, but had quantity and quality with a +6 advantage on shots from inside the 18-yard box.
40: Passes completed by Carolina defensive midfielder Alex Pérez.