The center-left party: In what looks to be a popular pair, Gardner comes down the flank as Bundu awaits. (photo courtesy of RailHawks)
WAKEMED SOCCER PARK/ CARY—If the March 14 victory over the "major league" New England Revolution was an occasion for a little well-deserved breast-beating, the loss to the definitely major league CD Olimpia was the occasion for—well, first, a dry towel.
A downpour worthy of a Sri Lankan monsoon at times threatened to obscure the action, and the slippery field was more or less responsible for defensive miscues that led to goals for each team. The 1:1 deadlock was broken in the 63rd minute when Jaime Rosales rocketed a very major league free kick that went over and around the RailHawks wall and skidded off the left post into the goal. A minute later, Coach Martin Rennie waved in five fresh players and the game took on a more scrimmage-like rhythm.
After the game, Rennie was beaming—and not just because he was finally dry.
He praised his squad's effort and discipline, which was especially evident in the first half. Although the Olimpia side was short five players who are on international duty, this was a good team. Keeper Donis Escober—normally the second stringer—was forced to make six saves in the first half, most of them against Sallieu Bundu.
Indeed, the RailHawks often dominated the possession and took 11 shots to Olimpia's five. Bundu took five of them, four in the first half and one in the second—a loose ball in front of the goal that he knocked into the back of the net in the 56th minute. Rennie said the superior fitness of Olimpia, who are in mid-season form, finally asserted itself in the game's final 10-15 minutes.
For his part, Olimpia coach Juan Espinoza generously complimented the discipline and tactics of the RailHawks, and compared them favorably to USL-1 rivals Montreal Impact, the team that sent Olimpia packing from the CONCACAF Champions League.
- Rennie isn't making any pronouncements about his lineup, but the game's starting 11 was unchanged from two weeks ago, except that Caleb Patterson started in the goal in place of Eric Reed, who came on for the second half.
- Bundu played another exceptional game up top, flanked by the very effective duo of Luke Kreamalmeyer and Josh Gardner, who served menacing balls into the box and took three shots between them.
- For a second game, Amir Lowery was a fiery, tireless and creative presence in the back of the midfield. He played 90 minutes and was perhaps fortunate that the referee took no offense at getting a faceful of his foot in the 77th minute.
- Playing in front of Lowery, Joseph Kabwe darted in and out of traffic, making trouble for the Olimpia defense.
- The defense was a little shakier—although the slippery pitch didn't help. The brawny center-back duo of Mark Schulte and Jack Stewart again started, and again played all 90 minutes. Schulte, who scored off a header against New England, again proved himself a threat in the air on set plays, but his miscue in the back was exploited by Roger Rojas in the 33rd minute. Schulte seemed to berate himself violently afterward, but hey man, it's just a friendly.
- Stewart—he of the Manuel Almunia hair—didn't repeat the poor back pass he made against the Revolution that nearly led to a goal, but he did nearly send a clearance into his own goal in the 61st minute.
- At right back, Devon McKenney had an adventurous game, with four fouls and a caution.
- At left back, John Gilkerson was the recipient of a Honduran handshake when Olimpia's Willinton Techera sent an elbow into his eye while jogging past in the 43rd. (The ref didn't see it, so it didn't actually happen.)
- Twenty players dressed for the game, including the mysterious Tom Parrot, who replaced McKenney in the 64th minute at right back. (Rennie said later that Parrot has been on trial for about a week. If you Google his name + "soccer" you get a news item about an actual parrot that was banned from a provincial match in England for imitating the sound of a referee's whistle.)
- Brian Plotkin replaced Gardner on the left wing and blasted a point blank shot just before the whistle.
- Aaron King and Hamed Diallo replaced Kreamalmeyer and Bundu, respectively, and played closer together, with both often in the box. King seemed to struggle with the slick pitch, giving away a few balls, but was more effective as he found his footing.
- Paul Ritchie was the only dressed player who didn't make it into the game.
- Among those who didn't make the lineup tonight: Mustapha Sama, Gavin Glinton, Jeremy Tolleson and Steven Curfman. Matt Watson is still playing for his indoor side in Baltimore and isn't expected back until mid-April.
- Rennie said after the game that the English striker John Cunliffe, who has been training with the team but wasn't in evidence tonight, is still on trial. Cunliffe is a native of Bolton and trained as a youth with Manchester United and Blackburn before joining the Colorado Rapids' reserve team in the USL's PDL league, where he scored 20 times in 21 appearances. In subsequent seasons with Chivas USA and the San Jose Earthquakes, he scored five times in 25 appearances. San Jose released him on March 2.
Next up for the RailHawks: An April 4 road trip to play the USL-2 Richmond Kickers. Also, the team confirmed that the April 14 trip to the USL-2 Wilmington Hammerheads is still on the books—just not on the RailHawks Web site. Regular season play begins April 11, when the ’Hawks host the Minnesota Thunder.