When the first-place Carolina RailHawks conceded their first loss of the year last week to the reigning NASL champion New York Cosmos, it was a chance to identify places to improve. After giving up three goals in the first half to the last-place Fort Lauderdale Strikers en route to a 3-1 home defeat, the RailHawks are reluctant to hit the panic button despite sliding down to second place in the 10-game spring season.
“There’s no panic right now. Next weekend becomes a big game for us if we want to win the spring season,” Carolina coach Colin Clarke said. “Three points is important to feel good, get our confidence back at home in front of hopefully another great crowd.”
The winner of the shortened spring season automatically earns a bid in the NASL’s four team postseason.
Coming into Saturday night with only two goals through 360 minutes, the Strikers’ offensive outburst wasn’t the one 5,216 fans at WakeMed Soccer Park – the highest of the season – were expecting.
“The result was just, we needed these three points now,” Fort Lauderdale coach Caio Zanardi said. “We played to counterattack but keep the ball positioned. We knew Carolina had very, very good players.”
The Strikers (1-2-2, 5 points) didn’t need much time to warm up as a completely unmarked Maicon Santos headed in Nana Attakora’s cross from the right wing in the seventh minute.
Being a goal behind wasn’t an unfamiliar situation for the RailHawks (4-0-2, 12 points), already having come back from one-goal deficits to earn three points against Minnesota and Oklahoma City. However, the RailHawks’ defensive woes continued on as the first half went on.
Attakora headed home a corner kick in the 23rd minute to double the lead and then Matheus Carvalho pounded home a Ramón Nuñez cross to bring the lead to 3-0 entering the halftime break.
Center back Simon Mensing got the RailHawks’ first shot on goal during stoppage time in the first half, but his header was straight into the arms of Diego Restrepo.
In the second half, Carolina’s offense started to gel with the addition of striker Billy Schuler after the intermission.
In the 67th minute, the RailHawks had something to show for it when Brian Shriver dove for Kareem Moses’ cross, heading it into the top right corner to cut the deficit to 3-1.
The RailHawks took charge after that goal until the game turned chippy as stoppage time neared. Both teams combined to receive six bookings.
They said it
“Every team in this league are very good and every team are capable of beating anyone on a given day … We’re in a great position six games in with four to go and we got to be looking to win them all. It’s a wide open spring season.” – RailHawks coach Colin Clarke
Each of the Strikers’ first-half goals came off of balls crossed in from the wing – one being a set piece corner. Despite having less crosses, the Strikers’ success rate was 38.5 percent, 25.2 percent higher than the RailHawks. Carolina will need to work at marking men in the middle to keep their pursuit of a spring season title and automatic playoff bid alive.
“There’s nothing tactical about crossing a ball into our box,” Clarke said. “It’s just about players not doing their job. We will continue to work on it.”
▪ The back line combination of Paul Black, Simon Mensing, Connor Tobin and Kareem Moses is the third combination the RailHawks have used in six league matches.
▪ Brian Sylvestre, who spent last year on loan with MLS’s Philadelphia Union, made his second straight start. Akira Fitzgerald, who lost his mother to lung cancer before last week’s match with the New York Cosmos, did dress and was on the bench.
▪ 17-year-old Nicholas Taitague made his third straight appearance for the RailHawks, entering in the 86th minute.
▪ The win was Fort Lauderdale’s first at WakeMed Soccer Park.