by Neil Morris
Last but not least, the only live pro football area fans can see takes place Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m. as the Carolina RailHawks host the Atlanta Silverbacks. There are several reasons to make a trip out to WakeMed Soccer Park a part of your holiday weekend.
With a record of 6-1-1, the RailHawks are off to the best start in club history. They currently sit six points clear of second-place FC Edmonton. The 18 goals Carolina has scored are six more than the next closest club, NSC Minnesota. And, only FC Tampa Bay has surrendered fewer goals - seven - than the eight Carolina has allowed.
RailHawks manager Martin Rennie spent much of the preseason openly declaring that this could be the most talented team he has every coached. The only question was how long it would take the influx of new players to jell into a cohesive group.
It apparently took about one match, an opening game loss to the Puerto Rico Islanders. Carolina hasn’t lost in the seven matches since, which have included two victories over the Montreal Impact and a return win over Puerto Rico last weekend.
Atlanta is buried at the bottom of the NASL table, earning only two points in seven games. They have scored the fewest goals in the league and are tied with Fort Lauderdale for the most allowed. While Carolina will have to be careful to avoid a potential trap game, the signs point to a fun night for RailHawks fans.
The Maltese Metaphor
Whether he’s a Falcon, Miracle, or Mediterranean Wayne Rooney, Etienne Barbara has already had a season for the record books. Barbara has scored in every match this season, including three braces and an opening match PK he buried after having landed from a transatlantic flight from Malta mere hours earlier.
Barbara’s 11 goals this season - already a club record - are more than the total scored by every TEAM in the NASL except NSC Minnesota, which has netted 12. He’s also tied for the league-lead in assists (three) and points (25).
Every streak eventually meets its end, but considering the fact that Atlanta has allowed the most goals in the league this season, Barbara’s exploits have a good chance of continuing.
A Slice of Derby Pie
Saturday’s match will be the first clash between the erstwhile Southern rivals since 2008. Two of the original participants in the inaugural, unofficial Southern Derby Cup in 2000 were the Atlanta Silverbacks and the Raleigh Capital Express. After the RailHawks were founded in 2007, they played Atlanta and Charleston in Derby competition until the Silverbacks went on hiatus for 2009 and 2010 seasons.
There’s No Place Like Home...for the time being
This weekend’s game against Atlanta will be Carolina’s sixth home match this season. After then, however, the RailHawks only have one home game during the month of June - versus FC Tampa Bay on 6/18 - and only two matches at WakeMed Park out of their next seven.
Ok, it’s unknown - even unlikely - whether any members of the USMNT will attend Saturday’s RailHawks match. However, consider this: Landon Donovan leads MLS with eight goals scored in 10 games this season. By contrast, Etienne Barbara has scored 11 goals in seven matches. So, if you make it out to WakeMed Soccer Park this weekend, you’re still guaranteed to see a star.