Our first opponent: the Carolina RailHawks! We haven’t met any of our opponents yet, so I’ll walk through who we’re going to be playing, more from a club history and fundamentals perspective than from the on-the-pitch tactical approach (which I don’t really know yet).
Carolina is one of the founding members of the NASL. They’re based in Cary, North Carolina, which is a major suburb in the Raleigh-Durham area. The RailHawks were launched as an expansion team in the USL-1 in 2007, and played three seasons in that league before transitioning through the USSF-D2 season in 2010 and becoming a founding member of the NASL in 2011.
As the team has only been around for seven years, let’s look at their results over that time:
- 2007 (USL-1): 8-12-8/8th; playoffs – first round; USOC – semifinals
- 2008 (USL-1): 9-11-10/8th; missed playoffs; USOC -3rd round
- 2009 (USL-1): 16-7-7/2nd; playoffs – first round; USOC – 2nd round
- 2010 (USSF-D2): 13-9-8/1st, NASL division; playoffs – lost in finals; USOC – 2nd round
- 2011 (NASL): 17-3-8/1st (Supporters’ Cup); playoffs – semifinals; no USOC
- 2012 (NASL): 10-10-8/4th; playoffs – semifinals; USOC – 4th round
- 2013 (NASL): 5-5-2/2nd (Spring); 7-2-5/2nd (Fall); Woosnam Cup; USOC – quarter-finals
Carolina has been competitive throughout their history. They’ve reached the playoffs in 5 of their 7 seasons, won the Supporters/Woosnam Cup twice in the NASL, and reached the semifinals of the US Open Cup in 2007. They were also the only team to get a win over the Cosmos last fall. So they’ll be expected to put on another strong performance in 2014, and make for a tough first opponent for the Eleven.
You won’t find a better summary of the team and its ups and downs than from Neil Morris’ RailHawks preview at IndyWeek (which is a Raleigh-Durham local paper, and has nothing to do with, y’know, Indy.)
Carolina is dealing with a couple of difficult changes, as they’ve lost Brian Shriver and Austin da Luz to Tampa Bay (NASL) and Orlando (USL Pro/MLS-bound), respectively. Shriver was the 2013 Golden Boot winner in the NASL, and his 15 goals were almost 40% of the team’s total. da Luz was almost as important, as the team’s leading assist provider (5) and key creator in the midfield. So the RailHawk attack will need to be reworked.
The RailHawks do retain many of their key players, including Tiyi Shipalane, Kupono Low, and goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald. Newly added players include the starting center-back pair of Connor Tobin and Daniel Scott, and a trio of forwards in Aaron King, Daniel Jackson, and Dmytro Kryvyy. (Carolina might well win the award for Best Player Names, if nothing else.)
Carolina have been coached by Colin Clarke since 2011, when he joined the RailHawks after coaching the Puerto Rico Islanders. A former Northern Ireland international player, Clarke had a twelve-year professional career in England before taking up a coaching career.
Identity and Home Park
The RailHawks are owned by Traffic Sports USA, a Miami-based soccer marketing firm that also owns the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The RailHawks name was chosen from a name-the-team contest, and refers to the area’s history as a rail depot and the presence of CSX and Amtrak lines across from WakeMed Soccer Park. The team wears an orange kit at home and purple as the away/change kit. The main supporters’ group are Triangle Soccer Fanatics.
Carolina plays its home games at WakeMed Soccer Park. The main stadium is part of a seven-field complex that hosts multiple competitions, and has a natural grass pitch. The stadium seats 10,000; last year’s average attendance was just over 4,700 and the top attendance was 6,708 on May 11 for a match against San Antonio.
Might be the toughest prediction of the year, as we have so little information to go on. Carolina tend to be tough, but they’re bedding in quite a few roster changes, which reduces their advantage. Indy should have a raucous home crowd, and I’m sure the team will be up for the match. Will the Eleven still need time to gel? I’m going to predict a strong start and a 3-1 victory for the Eleven.
Let’s get started! Forth the Eleven!