USL LIVE/ WEB—This weekend, reality set in for the Carolina RailHawks. No one expected the team—which won its first three games—to continue its perfect form, but after two games this weekend in Portland in which they went 180 minutes without scoring, the difficulty of building and maintaining a first-place team is now evident.
To be sure, after last night's 2-0 loss to the Timbers, the RailHawks are still in first with 10 points, but lurking below in third is Puerto Rico, which has seven points and two games in hand. Rochester also has seven points, with one game in hand.
Perhaps in an effort to bring water to the goal-scoring drought, coach Martin Rennie showed a radically different lineup last night. Up top, Sallieu Bundu returned after sitting out Thursday's game, but instead of the ever-present Josh Gardner and Luke Kreamalmayer on the flanks, Rennie started Andriy Budnyy and John Cunliffe. In the midfield, Matt Watson saw his first start alongside Kupono Low and Amir Lowery. The previously stable back four of John Gilkerson, Mark Schulte, Jack Stewart and Caleb Norkus/ Devon McKenney became Schulte, McKenney, Brad Rusin and Jeremy Tolleson. Eric Reed took his turn in goal.
Unfortunately, if predictably, the initial result of the roster remix was a lack of cohesion that yielded a quick fifth-minute goal for Portland. The ’Hawks regrouped thereafter, and proceeded to out-shoot the Timbers 8-3 for the half, 14-8 for the game. But the equalizer would not materialize, despite episodes of heavy Carolina pressure in the box. Timbers keeper Chris Seitz turned away a couple of dangerous shots en route to a nine-save performance.
(Seitz is nominally employed by Real Salt Lake. He's an up-and-comer, though, and his MLS minders seem to be training him this season with a series of short-term USL loans. He's also played a game on loan for the so-far woeful Cleveland City Stars, giving up a goal to Miami FC. One wonders if the RailHawks had a chance to check his plane ticket to make sure he's not heading to Cary next weekend to stand guard for the Charleston Battery. But Seitz can't be an excuse for the disappointing Portland trip; if the RailHawks could score against keepers for the New England Revolution and CD Olimpia, they can score against Real Salt Lake's third-stringer.)
The best news out of the weekend is the evidence that Rennie has drafted a broadly talented roster, and he's not afraid to experiment with lineups. He's providing his players ample opportunity to shine within a squad that has demonstrated a tough defensive alignment and good possession instincts. It's a team with a solid foundation and a nice new floor; however, that flooring awaits its finishers.
Match stats here.