by Neil Morris
Neither team mounted much scoring threat during the run of play. The Hammerheads, suffering the first loss of their preseason, featuring a lineup that included former RailHawk Andriy Budnyy. The RailHawks lone goal came in the 29th minute when former MLS midfielder Nick Zimmerman delivered a cross into the goalmouth and onto the waiting foot of Allan Russell, who punched the sitter into the back of the net.
One week away from the NASL season opener against the Puerto Rico Islanders, Carolina’s roster is still very much in flux. A couple of roster additions seen earlier in the preseason were not present tonight. But, fans got their first glimpse this preseason of Matt Watson, 34-year-old Scottish midfielder Stephen Glass, and goalkeeper Caleb Patterson, who returns to the RailHawks after a year with Miami FC. Patterson will compete for minutes with impressive newcomer Brad Knighton (yes, we can finally say his name), a former UNC-Wilmington standout who played three seasons in MLS before being waived in January by the Philadelphia Union.
However, with Islanders’ manager Colin Clarke looking on from the a hospitality suite, the RailHawks mainly treated tonight’s match as an opportunity to give their squad some additional match fitness.
“I think we’re a couple of weeks away from where we would like to be because of [delays] in getting started - getting everyone signed took longer and visas took longer,” said RailHawks’ head coach Martin Rennie. “Some players haven’t been here as soon as we would have liked, so we haven’t worked much with our full squad. But, I’m excited about what the team is going to be like.”
Also spotted tonight at the park was Kithson Bain, the Grendian striker who figures prominently in Rennie’s plans this season. Bain, who just arrived in North Carolina, spent the match in the press box attentively watching his new teammates.
There has been some concern expressed about the RailHawks’ inability to manufacture goals during the preseason. When asked whether he harbored any worries about his offense this season, Rennie responded curtly.
“No, because they’re not here yet,” he said.
In addition to Bain, Etienne Barbara just had his immigration visa approved and hopes to return to Carolina within a week or so, although it is uncertain whether he will arrive before next Saturday’s opening match.
Rennie also alluded to the impending arrival Pablo Campos, a 28-year-old Brazilian forward who spent the last two seasons in MLS with the San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake before being released by RSL just over a month ago.
“We’ve got a lot of firepower,” said Rennie. “It’s just not on the field for us yet. I think once its here, hopefully it will be exciting and dynamic. Brian’s [Farber] got pace, Etienne’s got pace, Kithson’s got pace, Pablo’s got pace. And, Allan did great tonight holding the ball up and scoring a good goal. So, I think there’s a lot to be exciting about and look forward to.”
When asked to compare this year’s team with the 2009 squad the last time he was here, Patterson was unequivocal.
“Every member of this team can come in and start,” said Patterson. “In fact, most of these guys can go to any other team and start, whereas the first year [I was here] you had more guys who were role players. There’s so much talent on this squad that once it gels...I have a very good feeling.”