HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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18 September 2008

Rilhawks weekend preview

Railhawks v. Battery Preview

In a final flurry of very ruffled feathers, the Cary-based Carolina Railhawks flap into a doubleheader against the Charelston Battery and Portland Timbers in USL-1’s final weekend. The stakes are high, as anything less than six points will snare no better than an 8th place finish for the sophomore ‘Hawks. In addition to winning two in two, they only make the playoffs if Atlanta and Minnesota choke.

On the bright side, if they do manage this Sisyphean task, they will be in the playoffs, which is of uncertain benefit other than fashioning a mantle of Cinderella to be lugged about. On the confusing side, why are there only seven teams in the playoffs? The Hawks finished 8th last year and made it in before being beaten soundly by Seattle.

It has been a rough year for the Railhawks who have struggled to find consistency, though they have been playing much better of late. The additions of players from Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile have begun to gel with those from Raleigh, California, Colorado, England, and Cote d’Iviore (to name a few), scoring 21 goals in their last nine games. There is a core of young talent spiced with some graybeards in their early 30s, which bodes well for the future. This season will look better in the Annals of American Soccer.

Before the avoidable 1-1 draw with Rochester last weekend, Scott Schweitzer pleaded for patience from the fans, and possibly the management. It was a pretty convincing plea, until with a 1-0 lead in the 82nd minute, an attacker was pulled off for a defender and in the 82nd minute it was 1-1. Even the staunchly supportive commentating crew were aghast at the decision which left the ‘Hawks scratching out a point when three were beak-bound.

Regardless of their chances of getting to the playoffs, I always recommend that people go to see the Railhawks play. They feature a great mix of international and home grown soccer talent in a comfortable, public transportation-free place to watch it. Almost like home, with all the niggling beauty of reality. You might also want to see proof of the old Wall Street adage: even if you don’t make it, they will come.

07 September 2008

Carolina Railhawks v. Charleston Battery

USL-1 Regular Season Match

Wake Med Soccer Park

Cary, NC

September 6, 2008

Wake Med Soccer Park is one of the finest venues in the United States to watch soccer, if you have a car. The total absence of public transportation to the stadium would be more noticeable if anyone seemed to mind.

A light crowd came out to see the last place ‘Hawks roll the dice in their bid to reach the post-season. They were facing a Charleston Battery team that had looked very impressive in a 2-1 loss to D.C. United in the final of the U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday. Almost everything went well for the home side as they notched three goals for the third time in five games.As Charleston sat back and hoped to spring on the counter, Carolina dominated early possession, attacking with fluidity through Ronald Cerritos in the center of midfield. When they were able to get the ball to the flanks, Nuñez took on defenders with his usual aplomb, creating trouble in the Battery backfield.

As the ‘Hawks opened some space they were reluctant to play early balls over the top, and after several abortive attempts Cerritos finally hit a one time ball through to Diallo who was bundled over in the box in the 25th minute. The ref did not hesitate in pointing to the spot, and Kupono Low stepped up to slot a wonderful penalty past the outstretched arms of Huddock.Inexplicably, Carolina did not press their advantage in possession but resorted to lobbing balls into the 6’4” Antoniuk, who paid dearly for his yeoman efforts in a nasty aerial collision with the 6’4” Nylen. An all too typical clash of monsters in the USL. It wasn’t long after that Cerritos, who should simply know better at his age, went flying into a 50-50 ball, smashing heads with a Battery defender and crumpled in a heap on the grass. The ref called for a stretcher, but all that could be found at WakeMed was a roller chair. One wonders if the trainers ask the players for their insurance cards. Unfortunately, Cerritos could not continue after the half-hour mark.

In the 37th, Charleston finally came to life and demonstrated some of the flowing soccer that put them in the Open Cup final. Five deft touches through midfield released Richardson on the left wing and his cross put Carolina’s back line to the test. Soon after, another midfield combination released Jamie Holmes on the right wing and his angled slot slid perilously close but Carolina escaped the danger.After a period of listlessness, Carolina responded through another series of passes in which play switched from left to right. Nunez released Diallo on the left, who played centrally to Waston, who slotted to the overlapping Curfman. His cross was directed into the net by Alewari in the 43rd minute. Charleston nearly pulled one back in injury time, but McClellan ended the half without having to make a save.

The half time entertainment featured the Railhawk Dancers performing a mock gang war, ironic given the recent escalation of gang violence in both Raleigh and Durham that seems a world, and not miles, away from Cary. There were also racing dogs and kids playing small sided games, in case anyone keeps track of these things.

Nothing much was generated by either side in the opening 20 minutes of the second half. Diallo continued to look slippery and dangerous running at the defense but it was Antoniuk who deserved the third goal of the night. Receiving a bouncing ball with his back to goal, he flicked over his defender and took the falling ball at full volley, sending it screaming to the top left corner. Hudock was equal to the task, flying across the goal to tip just over. This alone was worth the price of admission: two moments of athletic genius within one second.

The Battery are a good side, and they continued to look for combinations through midfield to prize open the heretofore stingy defense. A neat one-two in the attacking third allowed Spicer a chance to outmuscle Stokes and power underneath McClellan, who will wish he had another chance.

In the 74th minute, Diallo was taken off and Carolina looked to lock down their 2-1 advantage. They managed to give much of the initiative to Charleston who could not make too much of ten minutes of sustained pressure. As Carolina began to go backwards as much as forwards, this commentator was anticipating the worst, until a long sequence of passes ended with Curfman finding Watson on the right wing. Watson neatly turned his defender, dribbled to the line and cut back for the surging Cuban, Rey Martinez, who scored on his home debut. 3-1, and three points for Carolina.

This was one of the better displays of the season for the Railhawks who looked intent and confident. They continued their mastery of Charleston, running their all-time record to 5-0 against their Southern Derby opponents.
With three games to play, Carolina will need to put together even better performances if they are to defy the odds-makers who last week put their chances at a playoff spot at 5%. Nonetheless, they played well, scored some goals and will keep those that were there coming back for more.

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