by Neil Morris
The RailHawks faced a split Vancouver squad that nevertheless included Camilo, last season’s points leader, touted rookie Erik Hurtado and English Premier League veteran Nigel Reo-Coker, who played the opening half to make his Whitecaps debut. Also seeing time for former RailHawks manager Martin Rennie were ex-RailHawks Brad Knighton, Matt Watson and Marques Davidson.
The Whitecaps came out the aggressors for the 3,253 partisans christening the newly expanded WakeMed Soccer Park. After a couple of early saves by RailHawks’ goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, a Floyd Franks giveaway in the backfield led to Whitecaps’ forward Corey Hertzog—who scored 17 goals last year for the Wilmington Hammerheads—being taken down from behind in the box by Ciaran O’Brien in the 8th minute. Camilo stepped to the spot and hammered home his PK for the early lead.
The teams exchanged chances starting in the 19th minute. First, Carolina’s Jordan Graye nearly chipped in a corner kick on the RailHawks’ first shot of the contest. A minute later, Hertzog nailed a long blast off the left post. Going the other way, Brian Shriver maneuvered into the box and put a shot on frame that had to be tipped away by a leaping Knighton.
In the 25th minute, Reo-Coker’s highlight of the match came when he shed two defenders and calmly slotted a through ball ahead to a streaking Hertzog, whose ensuing shot was deflected wide by Fitzgerald.
Camilo struck again in the 34th when new RailHawks O’Brien and Kevin Burns permitted him to dribble unabated across the middle of the pitch, square up, and deliver a long, left-footed curler that nestled into the far netting.
Camilo’s hat trick came in the 49th minute. Accepting a lay-off along with left flank, Greg Klazura centered a low cross that bounded past a slow-reacting Fitzgerald and onto Camilo’s waiting foot for an easy sitter.
Increasingly poor passing and possession were the order of the second half for the RailHawks. Only Fitzgerald's seven saves and unforgiving woodwork kept the margin was growing wider. Carolina’s fleeting highlights came compliments of late-game substitutes that RailHawks manager Colin Clarke labeled “lively and bright.” Breiner Ortiz made his case for first-string inclusion, and Justin Willis delivered a pinpoint cross in the 84th minute that striker Brian Ackley somehow succeeded to head wide of the goalmouth.
“It was an enjoyable, open game,” Rennie said. “I was pleased with how we played and how we pressed the ball. The RailHawks are always a good team, and they’ve got the makings of a good team for this season. Obviously, they’re just starting their preseason preparations, so it was a good test for them because we’re coming to the end of ours.”
The gap in training time was foremost on Clarke’s mind, as well.
“Disappointed with the result, obviously, but it wasn't unexpected in some ways,” Clarke said. “I knew it was going to be tough They start their season in six days time, and we've had four days of training.”
Indeed, the RailHawks lack of practice time was a legitimate factor in the game’s outcome, along with the fact that many of their key players are just arriving to camp (Ty Shipalane), still rehabbing from injury (Zack Schilawski) or on trial elsewhere (Nick Zimmerman). Nevertheless, the early mantra for Clarke has been the return of last year’s nucleus, enabling this team to start the season fast and in sync. Carolina looked anything but on Sunday, with uninspired efforts from returnees like Franks and Austin Da Luz, and poor performances from newcomers O’Brien, Burns and an out-of-shape Nick Addlery.
Thankfully for the RailHawks, the regular season begins April 6, not March 6. Hopefully help—and lots of proper training—are on the way.
“With Ipswich, it was [initially] a great situation and a great opportunity for me,” Reo-Coker recalls. “I was in negotiations with a few teams, there was a lot going on at the time and the timing was [manager] Paul Jewell got me to Ipswich, and he wanted me to come and said just play your football, play for me and enjoy it, and keep yourself fit for the [transfer] window. Obviously, circumstances changed.”
The 28-year-old EPL vet signed with the Whitecaps after consulting with a number of sources regarding MLS and Rennie, including former RailHawk Chris Nurse (who is now on trial with FC Edmonton).
“Chris is a good friend of mine; I’ve known Chris from the age of 14,” Reo-Coker said. “He’s been coming here to America [to play] for the past four or five years. He spoke to Martin [Rennie], he told me about Martin and gave me some information about him, his experience with him as a manager. And he holds him in the highest regards.”
Rennie liked what he saw from his new midfielder.
“I was really pleased with a lot of things that might go unnoticed, even in just the locker room before the game,” he said. “He was a big, big presence and brought a lot of energy and confidence to the young players. He needs a little more time to get fully fit. I think he’ll be a fantastic addition to our team and be an excellent MLS player.”
For Reo-Coker, his entry into MLS comes at the right time for both he and the league.
“You learn a lot when you’re young, and the older you get the more mature you get,” Reo-Coker said. “When you’re enjoying your football and your personal life is settled, I believe you play the best football in your career. For me, I was ready for that change, and I know it’s something that will be very beneficial, and it’s a long-term thing I’m looking at. It’s not something I’m here for the short term to go back to England or anything like that. I’ve done my research; I spoke with some senior players I played with—Robbie Earle, Shaka Hislop—they gave me their input. This is a league that’s growing, and I think it’s a great time for me to come and the right age to help contribute to that.”
While Sunday's match was not broadcast or streamed online, below are the game's highlights compliments of the Vancouver Whitecaps video crew.