It wasn't going to be easy to fly down to Puerto Rico and extract a point, and it didn't happen.
We followed this one on Twitter (while we watched Zidane with a bunch of Dukies) and caught the highlights on USLLive.com: After 74 scoreless minutes, the Islanders' Christian Arrieta converted a PK after a foul by RailHawks keeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell. (Arrieta's goal was his 10th of the season, one off the league lead. He's also second in the league with 24 points. Pretty phenomenal considering that he's a right back.) A few minutes later, ex-RailHawk Jonathan Steele sent a corner kick to the forehead of defender John Krause for the clincher. The game saw 12 shots, five for the RailHawks.
It brings the RailHawks' losing streak to two, only the second time this season they've lost two league games in a row. (In a sign of what a bummer week it's been, no RailHawk made the team of the week.)
The likely result of the failure to get a point in Puerto Rico is a second-place finish for the Islanders and a third-place finish for the RailHawks. The Islanders have 50 points with three games to play; the RailHawks have 49 with two left.
Here's how the standings shake out, as of this afternoon.
For the RailHawks to regain second place, they'll probably have to take six points from their two remaining games—both at home, one against Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the Islanders will not only have to lose the final RailHawks fixture, they'll have to fail to beat either Minnesota or Miami. (Of course, Puerto Rico could simply lose or draw all three of their remaining games—which are all on the road—but that's unlikely to occur. Portland could lose its last three games and finish in a tie with Carolina, too.)
Second place isn't impossible, but third is the more likely outcome—unless Charleston collects nine points from its final three games (against Miami, Rochester and Minnesota). In this case, the RailHawks could finish in a tie for third with the Battery, and presumably be seeded fourth on the basis of their performance this season against Charleston.
Two big games are coming up. Clear your schedule for Saturday, Sept. 12 and Friday, Sept. 18. The RailHawks need the 12th man in a big way as first the Islanders, then the Montreal Impact come to town.
BAYAMÓN, PUERTO RICO—There were no championships on the line Tuesday night, but it was the Puerto Rico defense that caused the RailHawks a 2-0 defeat at Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium.
Puerto Rico defenders Cristian Arrieta and John Krause scored the two goals, and goalkeeper Bill Gaudette did his part to shut out the RailHawks and send them to their second straight loss. Carolina also lost its grip on second place in the USL-1 table. With three points from Tuesday's match, Puerto Rico (50 points) overtook the RailHawks (49), who'd been entrenched in second for the last three weeks.
"At the start of the season, our goal was to finish in the top three," said Carolina coach Martin Rennie. "I think our expectations are higher now, so it's really hard any time we lose. But our goal was to finish in the top three. Ultimately, whether it's a good season a great one will depend on what we do from now."
Rennie observed the match from the stands as he was serving his one-match suspension following his ejection from last week's match in Montreal. Assistant coach Brian Irvine handled the in-game management.
The match was even throughout and a scoreless draw seemed a fair and inevitable conclusion after the teams played each other so closely. But the match turned against the RailHawks (14-7-7) in the 75th minute when the Islanders (14-5-8) were awarded a penalty kick. Carolina goalkeeper Caleb Patterson charged off his line to challenge for a ball, but he was called for a foul when he slid after it. Arrieta stepped to the spot and placed the ball into the left side of the goal, while Patterson dove right.
The Islanders put the game away six minutes later, when Krause headed in Jonny Steele's corner kick at the back post.
Carolina spent much of the night on the ball and attacking, but for the second straight match, that didn't translate into any goals.
"We need to improve on our finishing," Rennie said. "The last two games we have had a lot of chances, a lot of the ball, so there's a key thing we have to improve on. Early on, we were passing a bit better than we are now. Next game, we've got to focus on that and on playing at a good tempo and a good pace.
In the 28th minute, Puerto Rico gave away the ball just outside its area and Gavin Glinton broke in on goal, but Gaudette came out and cleared the ball away.
In first-half stoppage time, Daniel Paladini had a look from just more than 20 yards, but Gaudette dove to make the save.
In the 62nd minute, Luke Kreamalmeyer created a shot for himself at the near post, but Gaudette went down and turned him away.
In the 68th minute, five minutes after stepping on the field, Andriy Budnyy flung a low shot on goal, but again, Gaudette was there to keep it out of the net.
While the match's complexion changed on a Puerto Rico PK, Carolina felt it deserved won nearly 20 minutes earlier. In the 58th minute, Kreamalmeyer beat his defender out wide and cut toward goal from the left flank. As he tried to separate from his man, he was tackled from behind. Not getting that call hurt, and it took on added significance when just more than 15 minutes later, the Islanders received a PK one and took control of the match.
With Tuesday's defeat, the RailHawks have lost all four times they've gone to Puerto Rico, and they fell to 0-6-1 all-time against the Islanders.
The RailHawks can reclaim second place - and their first-ever win over the Islanders - later this week. The teams will meet for the third and final team of the season on Saturday at 7 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Said Rennie, "We've just got to dust ourselves off and move forward."