by Neil Morris
On the heels of the draw at Portland four days ago, manager Martin Rennie reverted back to an early season starting lineup, inserting Daniel Paladini, Matt Watson, Brad Rusin, and John Gilkerson. It was Rusin’s first start since May 1 at Rochester and Gilkerson’s first time on the pitch since drawing a red card and multi-game suspension at Miami on May 8.
The change almost paid immediate dividends when Josh Gardner took the opening kickoff down the left side and crossed it to Watson, who nearly converted a goal at the 20-second mark. In the 8th minute, the Whitecaps’ Martin Nash blasted a 25-yarder over the crossbar. Later, a streaking Matt Watson failed to convert a header off a pinpoint long ball in the 19th minute.
The RailHawks midfield displayed tremendous control and passing all night that kept the formidable Whitecaps’ attack at bay. The lone exception was in the 31st minute, when a RailHawks giveaway in the backfield set up a cross by Zourab Tsiskaridze to a wide-open Ansu Torré in the front of the RailHawks goal. Torré calmly struck the ball past goalkeeper Eric Reed for a 1-0 Whitecaps lead.
Coming into tonight’s contest, not only had Vancouver (4-2-4, 16 points) not allowed a league goal at home this year, but they had only allowed four total league goals all season. That looking unlikely to change until the stoppage period at the end of the first half, when the RailHawks’ Etienne Barbara dribbled cleverly toward the goal and was taken down in the penalty area by Vancouver’s Nelson Akwari. The referee called for the penalty, and with Gregory Richardson on the bench, Barbara stepped unimpeded to the spot, then borrowed Richardson’s stutter-step approach and banged the PK into the left half of the net past Whitecaps’ keeper Jay Nolly to equalize the match. It was Barbara’s club-leading fifth goal of the season.
The second half would become a back-and-forth dance between two teams hoping to snatch three points but not wanting to risk surrendering a decisive goal in the process. Josh Gardner saw two terrific chances slip away in the 50th and 51st minutes. First, Paladini slotted the ball through to a streaking Gardner, who failed to control the ball. Then, Gardner took an impressive drive toward the goal but saw his shot blocked away by Nolly.
A flurry of fresh legs, long balls forward, headers and corner kicks never materialized into goals for either club. By the time a stoppage time rocket by Vancouver’s Wes Knight sailed over the bar and the referee’s full-time whistle blew, both teams appeared relieved to share the 1-1 draw.
The RailHawks finished their road trip with two wins and two draws, collecting eight out of a possible twelve points along the way. Although they have catapulted into a tie for second in the NASL Conference, they remain knotted in seventh place in the overall USSF D2 standings. That said, only Puerto Rico has played fewer league matches to date this season than the RailHawks.
The RailHawks return to WakeMed Soccer Park next week. On Tuesday, June 15, they host the Charlotte Eagles in the 1st round of the U.S. Open Cup. On Saturday, June 19, the RailHawks host Crystal Palace Baltimore, and then Montreal comes to Cary on Saturday, June 26 before the Carolina embarks on - you guessed it - another four-game road trip.