by Neil Morris
This match was the second in a four-game July road trip for the RailHawks (5-2-6; 21 points). Moreover, it was the first of three road matches over the span of seven days. So, rationing of player resources was part of the equation as such mainstays as Etienne Barbara, Daniel Paladini, Gregory Richardson and Matt Watson were absent from the starting lineup (and, of that group, only Paladini and Richardson saw action as late-game substitutes).
However, what remained steady was the backline of Greg Shields, Mark Schulte, Matt Bobo, and David Hayes, together with now-regular starting goalkeeper Eric Reed. Working with defensive-minded midfielders Amir Lowery and Brad Rusin, the RailHawks’ defense stymied the formidable scoring threat of the Islanders (5-7-2), who entered the match fourth in the league in goals scored despite having played the fewest matches of any team in USSF D2 except the RailHawks.
While Puerto Rico resorted to playing long balls forward from the outset of the match, the RailHawks were happy to counterattack. Carolina struck first in the 18th minute, when Bobo played his own pinpoint long ball over the Islanders’ defense to a streaking Sallieu Bundu, who handled the pass with deft touch before blasting a shot past Islanders’ goalkeeper Bill Gaudette.
Then, in the 26th minute, Carolina took a 2-0 lead when a long throw-in by Schulte rebounded off several players to the top of the penalty box and the waiting left boot of Josh Gardner, whose high-velocity volley somehow navigated through a creamsicle melange of players and past the keeper. As Gaudette picked the ball out of the back of the net and berated his defense, Gardner and Bundu enjoyed a celebratory dance along the left touchline.
Puerto Rico would step up their attack throughout the rest of the match. However, Reed, Bobo, and company thwarted every threat. For their part, the RailHawks spent most of the second half in containment mode, eschewing several counterattacking opportunities created as the Islanders constantly pushed men forward.
The 2-0 result was Reed’s third clean sheet of the season. It also keeps the RailHawks undefeated on the road with four wins and four draws. Unfortunately, Carolina now has more victories this season in Puerto Rico (two) than WakeMed Soccer Park (one).
The RailHawks next travel to Montreal this Wednesday, July 14 before finishing their road trip in Rochester next Saturday.