by Neil Morris
A steady north current wreaked havoc with the strategy and execution of both teams, chiefly the RailHawks and the first half and the Stars in the second half. However, ultimately it was two defensive mishaps by each club that yielded the counterbalancing goals.
The first half was a rather blasé affair. Cory Elenio and Stephen Glass got their first starts of the season for the RailHawks, leaving Chris Nurse, Jonny Steele, an injured Brian Farber, and to-date season MVP Matt Watson out of the lineup. This deficit at midfield, combined with atmospheric tempest, gave Minnesota an advantage as they created the most opportunities in the first half.
Stars striker Simone Bracalello come out firing with the opening whistle. His first shot in the 8th minute missed just wide right of the goal. In the 10th minute, Stars midfielder Lucas Rodriguez sent a cross into the box that Tino Nunez sent sailing just over the crossbar.
Minnesota’s starting XI included two former RailHawks, defenders John Gilkerson and Jack Stewart. In 19th minute, a Gilkerson cross found Nunez, who again launched the ball over the frame. Bracalello failed to finish two other scoring chances in the 31st and 35th minutes.
An anemic RailHawks squad come out on their front foot to start the second half. After another Bracalello blast in the 49th minute that seemed destined for the top right corner was the goal until tipped away by a leaping Brad Knighton, the RailHawks started to link up and create chances going forward.
In the 52nd minute, a Pablo Campos cross was mishit by Floyd Franks atop the penalty area. Two minutes later, Brad Rusin’s header was stopped by a diving Joe Warren, the Stars’ ageless keeper.
In the 58th minute, the RailHawks Nick Zimmerman was taken down while dribbling across the front half of the penalty box. Etienne Barbara’s PK glanced off the woodwork and past Warren, giving Carolina a 1-0 lead and Barbara, last week's NASL Offensive Player of the Week, his league-leading fourth goal of the season.
However, in the 67th minute, Knighton, who had played a solid game most of the match, made a costly blunder. After being awarded a goal kick, Knighton decided to take a short pass instead of a long ball forward, despite literally now having the wind at this back. The Stars’ Andrei Gotsmanov easily dispossessed the unsuspecting RailHawks defenders and laid the ball off to Nunez, who played it over to an unimpeded Bracalello. Bracalello stuck the ball past Knighton’s pointblank ear to equalize the score 1-1.
Still, the RailHawks remained the team putting together more chances, especially after the season-debut of Nurse in the 74th minute. However, in the 83rd minute, a collision between Campos and Rodriguez left the Stars midfielder lying in a heap on the pitch and the referee showing Campos a red card to the RailHawks’ forward, who had already been cautioned in the 59th.
It is the second red card for the RailHawks in four games this season, and after Rusin and Steele, Campos’ game-suspension will be the third match missed by a RailHawk this year because of red cards.
Both teams would conjure some final threats. In the 87th minute, a swinging free kick into the box caught the head of RailHawks defender John Krause, but his deflection landed meekly into Warren’s waiting mitts. In the 89th, Nurse made made an impressive drive into the attacking third, laying the ball off to Barbara who returned a lob back to Nurse before Warren broke up the party.
Finally, in the waning seconds of stoppage time, that man Barcalello said hello to Knighton one last time with a rocket shot that the keeper kindly swallowed up.
Carolina, whose record goes to 2-1-2 on the season, remain in the second place in the NASL behind the undefeated Puerto Rico Islanders. The RailHawks travel to FC Tampa Bay next Saturday before returning to WakeMed Soccer Park on Wednesday, May 11 to face the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.