After the RailHawks lost 1-0 Thursday night at Vancouver, they're in the unenviable position of needing a two-goal victory margin to move on in the USL-1 playoffs without throwing themselves into the crapshoot of a penalty-kick finish. Kickoff is at 5 p.m. at WakeMed Soccer Park. Tickets here.
Against the Whitecaps on Thursday, the RailHawks attack was notably punchless despite having Matthew Delicâte in the striker role for much of the game. Of the seven shots mustered, only a second-half look from close range by John Cunliffe posed any real danger to Whitecaps keeper Jay Nolly.
However, the RailHawks would likely have shown more pace and threat in the final third if Joseph Kabwe and Gregory Richardson had been selected for the match. Although the USLLive.com commentators speculated that Richardson, a Guyanese international, had encountered visa problems, he did not make the trip (nor did Kabwe, Sallieu Bundu or Amir Lowery).
What's apparent, then, is that coach Martin Rennie decided to keep some of his best legs in reserve for this afternoon's return leg. He'll need all the pace he can put on the field: The RailHawks have only been in one PK tiebreaker this season, and it was a dismal one, the sour finish at the end of Wilmington's shocking equalizer at the last gasp of extra time in the U.S. Open Cup second round.
Prior to Thursday's match, I looked at the RailHawks' record of scoring goals on the road against the six other playoff teams. I discovered that the ’Hawks had been notably unprolific in this regard, notching only four goals in 10 games (although they extracted 10 points from those contests).
Unhappily, the RailHawks would not change this pattern against Vancouver last Thursday.
However, I got an interesting note from Tim Candon, RailHawks blogger and a far more astute observer than I am, in which he argued that I was paying insufficient attention to the quality of the RailHawks' performances on the road. With his permission, I'm publishing his response here:
I like your deeper look at the RailHawks road record, but I will counter by saying look at more than just the results. Look at the performance, too, because that's the focus for Martin. If the performance is up to snuff, the result takes care of itself.
Of the road matches against the other USL-1 playoff teams:
1. PORTLAND: The RailHawks got screwed in the first game. Josh Gardner was pulled down in the box in the 2nd minute. Not only was a penalty not awarded, but the ball was cleared off the line as it was about to trickle into the goal. If that call goes the other way, it's a completely different game.
The second game, they didn't play well at all in the first five minutes—a byproduct of eight or nine different guys on the field from three days before against Portland—and the Timbers capitalized with a goal in the 5th minute. Brad Rusin hit the crossbar on a 45th-minute header. Two inches lower, that game probably ends a tie (Portland got the insurance goal in the final five minutes as the RailHawks pushed for the equalizer).
2. CHARLESTON: They won the first match and played well, so no complaints there. The next match in Charleston, they played like very poorly. There's no denying that and they had no business taking any points from that match.
3. PUERTO RICO: While not exactly thrilling, they got jobbed again when Kreamalmeyer was tackled from behind in the area, and no penalty was awarded. If memory serves, that was right around the 60-minute mark. Ten minutes later, Puerto Rico gets a PK for a markedly less-severe infraction and changes the entire complexion of the game.
4. MONTREAL: In the first match, they again caught some terrible breaks (Bundu was fouled in the box, no penalty was awarded and Kupono had a goal pulled out of the net), and a potential win turned into a tie. In the second match, it was more of the same, though the eventual loss was probably a just result.
5. VANCOUVER: The Whitecaps are one of the best home teams in the league and had one of the most prolific attacks in the league. They were shut out only six times this year, fewer than any other team in the league. The RailHawks stood on their head defensively in the regular-season game, withstanding a season-high 22 shots allowed to keep their clean sheet. I thought they played well on Thursday night, and a bad bounce doomed them to defeat.
6. ROCHESTER: That they stole a win in the first trip thanks to Kupono's 90th-minute goal, and that speaks to the resiliency of this team and that they went for it. That was another night where they were amazing defensively, and to stick one in in the dying moments is what championship teams do. The second trip to Rochester wasn't really good. I don't remember much from that game, which must mean it wasn't terribly good or terribly bad.
So while the record in those 11 games against the six playoff teams (including Thursday night) wasn't necessarily great, there were only three instances where they deserved nothing. But it's not out of the realm that they could have/should have won eight of the 10. Granted, the actual results are what matters, especially now that we're into the postseason. But there's more to it than just the final score if we're using past performance as a barometer for the future.