by Neil Morris
The RailHawks opens their 2013 campaign on April 6 on the road against the defending NASL champion Tampa Bay Rowdies, thus avoiding having to market a home match during NCAA Final Four weekend. Carolina’s first game at WakeMed Soccer Park will be the following Saturday, April 13 when it hosts the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
The RailHawks will not host an Independence Day holiday game for the first time since 2010. However, the club will put on their perennial fireworks celebration in conjunction with the Saturday, June 29 home match against the Atlanta Silverbacks. The RailHawk are also the only league team with no game scheduled over Memorial Day weekend in May.
Other notable RailHawks matches include the May 4 visit to the Minnesota Stars, which will take place in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The San Antonio Scorpions visit WakeMed Park on May 11, the day before Mother’s Day (marketing tie-in alert!). Overall, every RailHawks home game over the Spring Season is scheduled on a Saturday night. However, participation in the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has the potential to fill several weekdays during May and June.
During the Spring Season, each NASL club faces every other league member twice in a home-and-away set. The club that finishes with the most accumulated points wins the Spring Championship and the right to host the winner of the ensuing Fall Season for the one-game NASL Soccer Bowl championship in mid-November.
The Puerto Rico Islanders and expansion New York Cosmos previously announced that they will not compete during the Spring Season. Both clubs say they will initiate play at the beginning of the 2013 Fall Season. However, while league sources are confident that the Cosmos will be ready to kick off at that time, the future of the Islanders remains hazy. Just this week, former Islanders defender Jay Needham signed with the Rowdies, the first of undoubtedly more Islanders who will look to join other clubs.
In addition, the RailHawks announced that they will host the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer on Sunday, February 24 in the 5th Annual Hilton Garden Inn Durham Southpoint Community Shield Match. Vancouver, which are managed by former RailHawks gaffer Martin Rennie, also faced Carolina for last year’s Community Shield match, which the RailHawks won on a penalty kick shootout. In addition to Rennie, the Vancouver roster is expected to include such other ex-RailHawks as goalkeeper Brad Knighton, and midfielders Matt Watson and Jun Marques Davidson.
The Whitecaps play another preseason exhibition the preceding day when they take on the Chicago Fire in Charleston, S.C. In addition, Vancouver opens their MLS regular season campaign the following Saturday. The same scheduling logjam took place last season as well, causing Vancouver to send a split squad to Cary to take on the RailHawks.