by Joe Schwartz
CARY — Carolina RailHawks brass surely will be happy to see the attendance figures more than doubled this week, with 3,687 paying customers coming out to WakeMed Soccer Park for the Sunday night friendly against the Mexican Olympic team.
Unfortunately for them, most of the spectators were supporting the opposition. Even Swoops, the team mascot, dubbed the “most famous in professional sports” by announcer
Dean Linke Mark Calaway, was roundly booed.
“It’s always fun to play with fans who are cheering all game long,” said RailHawks striker Andriy Budnyy, who scored the team’s lone goal in the 1-1 draw. “I wish those fans were rooting for us though. Hopefully our fans will come during the season and help us create the same atmosphere.”
For the most part, it was a treat for the ears more than the eyes. As drums were banged, officials were heckled and fans traded multilingual barbs, the teams mainly played landlocked football, both sitting back and waiting to strike on the counterattack. That becomes difficult when neither mounts an attack from which to counter.
The result was a strained, chippy affair that saw the home team score twice, albeit once in its own net when captain Mark Schulte scuffed a 53rd minute clearance off his shin and over goalkeeper Nic Platter’s helpless hands.
“It’s a fluke thing,” Platter said. “It just happens.”
Each team struggled to create scoring chances, and fittingly Budnyy tallied his goal from a free kick seconds before the halftime whistle.
After, as he said, “I got fouled and the ref finally called it,” the Ukraine Train struck a low liner from 20 yards out, beating the wall and Mexican keeper Alejandro Dautt.
“I was eventually going to try to chip it over the wall but midfielder Matt Watson made a good run and it took away the last defender in the wall, and so it opened up the opposite corner,” he said. “It was wide open, and I was counting on the keeper trying to get across and getting caught halfway and that’s what happened.”
The Mexicans must have stepped over the ball with their right foot and played a behind-the-back touch to themselves with the left more than a dozen times and their technical skill was on full display. So, too, was their diminutive stature and age. Veteran RailHawks muscled the Mexican 20-somethings off the ball much of the night.
For their part, Carolina only mustered five shots on the night and were outshot 11-1 in the second half. Even so, Platter had a rather uneventful night with most of the strikes coming from distance and not troubling his goal. One of those shots came late in the game from left back Piccolo Rojo, a remarkable heat-seeker from 45 yards or so that hit the crossbar and provoked gasps from the crowd.
“They really only had one shot that I had to deal with to make a save,” Platter said. “I was happy with what I saw in front of me.”
Coach Martin Rennie also was pleased. He ran a few new names out in the side, including fresh signees Marques Davidson and Floyd Franks in midfield. Watson got his first start, and Brad Rusin stepped in for the Amir Lowery, who tweaked his knee in training but should be back in the squad next week, in the holding role.
“Guys who hadn’t played got to play and guys who maybe would have been of the bench got to come on,” Rennie said. “It’s another step toward building our team for the season. We’ve got a lot of work to do, so it was nice to have a game that didn’t count in the league.”
Fans also got their first glimpse of David Hayes, a left back who stepped in for John Gilkerson, who moved to the middle for Matt Bobo, to start the second half.
Rennie brought in the former all-league Portland Timbers defender on trial as the team seeks to bolster its defensive ranks after Kupono Low went down with a knee injury in the preseason.
“He’s a guy that’s interested in coming, so we’re hopeful that we might work something out,” Rennie said.
Winger Gregory Richardson pulled his hamstring in the match and says he’ll be out one or two weeks. Striker Sainey Touray is still a month away from playing. Rennie said.
The Railhawks return to USSF D-2 league action next Saturday at the Rochester Rhinos.