by Neil Morris
Late in the unbeaten Carolina RailHawks’ 5-2 win over the San Antonio Scorpions Saturday evening, Carolina manager Colin Clarke was exhorting his team to continue attacking in search of goals. His presumed purpose was that while Carolina’s back line has improved dramatically from last season, the RailHawks’ best defense remains their potent offense.
But, there may have been another motivation at play.
“[We still had] a bit of a horrible taste in our mouth from last year when we got beat down in San Antonio, so that was still in the back of our mind,” Clarke said. “I’d have loved to stuff a few more in, but five’s pretty good.”
The unpalatable result Clarke regurgitated was the 8-0 thrashing Carolina suffered in San Antonio on July 28, 2012. And while Carolina faced the Scorpions twice more after that debacle—a loss in Cary on Sept. 8 and a win back in San Antonio on Sept. 16—a good manager will never forget the sting of a blowout or cease using it as motivational fodder.
Indeed, the ghost of another past blowout haunted Saturday’s match. The last time Scorpions’ goalkeeper Pat Hannigan faced the RailHawks in Cary was August 26, 2009 as a member of Miami FC. That night, Carolina hammered Miami 9-0, a game in which Hannigan was actually credited with seven saves when not surrendering, well, nine goals. Also playing the full 90 minutes for Miami that night was midfielder Walter Ramirez, who started for San Antonio during last year’s 8-0 win and this 5-2 loss.
From the opening whistle, the RailHawks controlled possession and appeared capable finding space throughout the midfield and sending sorties at will into the attacking third. Floyd Franks opened Carolina’s account in the 13th minute when he accepted a layoff from Zack Schilawski and sent a screamer from 25 yards out that flew past Hannigan into the far netting.
Mysteriously, Carolina temporarily took their foot off the gas after this initial score, and the result was an incredibly soft penalty against defender Paul Hamilton in the 19th minute. Hans Denissen stepped to the spot and calmly slotted home the equalizing PK.
The RailHawks responded to this wakeup call with a flurry of forays into the box, but they appeared disinclined to convert their chances until the 37th minute. Brian Shriver raced forward and harried Hannigan as he maneuvered to his right and off his line to attempt a clearance. Shriver nicked the ball, causing it to deflect out to Schilawski stationed beyond the box. Schilawski calmly delivered a one-touch strike with his left foot into the open goal for a 2-1 Carolina halftime lead and Schilawski’s first goal of the 2013 campaign.
“Obviously, every game that goes by as a forward without getting a goal starts to eat at you a bit,” Schilawski said. “For me personally, the goals are never a huge part of how I evaluate my play. But unfortunately, that’s not how everyone else feels. So, that’s how it eats at you. Is the boss thinking I’m not scoring; is everyone in the stadium thinking I need to score goals? That’s the psychological aspect of it.”
Although San Antonio was the trailing team, it was Carolina that exited intermission looking to put the game away. In the 48th minute, the nimble Austin da Luz centered a ball off the left side to Shriver, whose poked in the sitter for the RailHawks’ third goal. Two minutes later, Ty Shipalane played a nifty ball ahead to da Luz, who dribbled to the end line and drew Hannigan out of goal before chipping to ball to a leaping Schilawski, whose header in the goalmouth gave Carolina a 4-1 lead.
The sequence gives da Luz a league-leading four assists.
“With Austin, you know when he picks up his head he’s going to look for the pass,” Shriver said. “He’s playing out wide and delivering some great balls into the box. For us, we’re just trying to get into the box and give him options.”
Despite Clarke’s aforementioned exhortations, the RailHawks retreated into game-killing mode, and the result was a San Antonio goal in the 65th minute. A Scorpions corner kick pinballed around the box until finding the foot of Nikola Vasilic for an easy putaway.
However, any attempt by the Texas visitors to mount a comeback was stymied in the 82nd minute when Kevin Harmse was shown a straight red card for a harsh tackle of da Luz. Three minutes later, the RailHawks took advantage when second-half sub Brian Ackley did his best da Luz impersonation, laying off the ball to a streaking Shriver, who took a touch before depositing his second goal past Hannigan. Shriver’s brace gives him five goals on the season, tops in the NASL.
Also seeing time in his second game since joining the RailHawks on loan was Enzo Martinez, who came on for Nick Millington in the 63rd minute. Clarke revealed that Martinez would rejoin Real Salt Lake after next Saturday’s road match against the Atlanta Silverbacks, in time for RSL’s May 20 reserve league match against Chivas USA in Los Angeles. However, Clarke hopes that Martinez will return to Carolina soon thereafter, although the exact date is dependant on a number of factors, including the length of RSL’s run in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“Maybe we can draw them and beat them, and then he’ll be back quicker,” said a cheeky Clarke.
Saturday’s win, combined with Minnesota’s loss to Fort Lauderdale and an idle Tampa Bay, puts the RailHawks (3-2-0, 11 pts.) into sole possession of first place in the NASL Spring season standings.
“We couldn’t afford to draw tonight,” Schilawski said. “That’s the nature of the new format this year, which I think is one of the good things about it. Every game’s huge, every game’s important. We knew they were going to come at us with everything they had because of their position in the table. And I think we’re happy with how we handled it.”
Speaking of handling it, we wanted to ask San Antonio manager Tim Hankinson about the difficulties between last year, when his Scorpions (0-2-3, 2 pts.) were riding high atop the NASL standings, and this Spring season, when the team is now alone at the bottom of the table. We wanted to ask him about sticking with a three-man back line in the face of Carolina’s formidable attack. We wanted to ask about the decision to not start Esteban Bayona up top. Heck, we could have wanted to ask what he thought about Iron Man 3 and whether he had seen The Great Gatsby yet.
However, according to RailHawks officials assigned to arrange postgame interviews, Hankinson made a beeline for his rental car immediately after the match and was en route to the team’s hotel before the local press had even meandered their way to the media room.
“It’s huge for us,” said Schilawski when asked about Saturday night’s crowd, the second-largest attendance for a regular season league game in club history. “Obviously the facilities are unbelievable—that’s a motivation every day to come and train here. But when the stadium fills up, it’s big time. And that’s something we talk about in the huddle before the game: take a look around, look at the all the people, let’s put on a show and make them want to come back.”