by Neil Morris
So, Clarke arranged a detour to the San Francisco area for a day of sand, sightseeing and golf. That night, he also took in the closest Major League Soccer game: Chivas USA visiting the San Jose Earthquakes.
Little did Clarke know that just over three weeks later and 2,000 miles away, his RailHawks would host Chivas USA in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. In their four matches since, Carolina has notched three wins and one draw, including victories over the NASL-leading Puerto Rico Islanders and, most notably, an Open Cup shocker over the Los Angeles Galaxy, the defending MLS champions.
While the Galaxy team that traversed to Cary, N.C. last week predominantly comprised second-stringers and reservists, it was a full-strength Chivas USA squad that trained midday Monday on Field 6 at WakeMed Soccer Park. Chivas also played mostly starters during last week’s 1-0 Open Cup win over PDL side Ventura County Fusion.
The match against Chivas USA is close to a sell-out; the RailHawks’ front office staff believes the game will be fully subscribed by walk-up ticket buyers. The irony is that while last week’s Galaxy game sold out in mere hours, fans will see far more stars wearing Chivas USA kits Tuesday evening. Popular names include Juan Pablo Ángel, the former Aston Villa and New York Red Bulls all-star, Danny Califf, another former MLS All-Star and U.S. international, and Alejandro Moreno.
Perhaps the biggest name, however, is the youngest. Juan Agudelo, the 19-year-old already with 15 caps and two goals for the U.S. Men’s National Team, joined Chivas USA on a trade from the Red Bulls on May 16, three days after Clarke’s impromptu scouting trip. The last time Agudelo trained at WakeMed Soccer Park, in March 2011 with the U.S. national team, head coach Bob Bradley kept the youngster off-limits from the assembled journalists.
Monday, Agudelo chatted up local English- and Spanish-language media, a congenial bunch that at times appeared to disarm manager Robin Fraser and the rest of his L.A.-based players by shaking their hands and thanking them for their time.
During their training session, Fraser’s quiet demeanor methodically put Chivas USA through their paces. Meanwhile, a few hundred yards away on Field 4, the boisterous Clarke was pushing his RailHawks in a far more spirited practice. Carolina’s coaching staff ordered media to turn off their cameras and a couple of players sought treatment immediately afterwards.
Below are interviews with the head coaches for both clubs as well as several key players. However, the most revealing quote came from Carolina’s Austin Da Luz immediately after his question-and-answer session, as several reporters wished him good luck Tuesday night.
“Thanks,” responded Da Luz, lowering his voice slightly. “We’ll need it.”