An effort was made though by Traffic Sports and Johnson to keep the team’s name, colors and brand that was established. “We analyzed what it would mean to lose the name and we all felt that it would be best to retain the name [and brand]. I think there is a brand here. There have been millions of dollars invested in the RailHawks brand by the Wellman’s [former owners], by the fans and we felt that was worth preserving.”
Through legal logistics and some financial support from Traffic Sports USA, the team was given new life. The future of the RailHawks was secure. The team would play in the NASL for the 2011 season.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great jobs in sports and in particular soccer. I was, many years ago, Director of Marketing for the Carolina Hurricanes [NHL], General Manager of the Richmond Kickers for three years. I was General Manager of the Kansas City Wizards for seven years. All those roles help me where I am now.”
The RailHawks President also has the added benefit of growing up in the area and playing soccer with the local clubs. It is that experience coupled with the staff of the front office that is guiding the club to success on and off the field.
Professional soccer has been on and off again in the triangle area. In the mid nineties there were the Raleigh Flyers and Capital Express playing in the old ‘A’ League. Those teams dissolved for several reasons and until 2006 when the Carolina RailHawks were established there was no professional soccer in the area. Now with the team on the tear fans are wondering what could be next.
|Pablo Compos, former RSL|
Much of the team’s success on-field has involved ex-MLS players like Brad Knighton, Nick Zimmerman and Pablo Compos are giving the team the extra boost they perhaps needed to reach the championship that eluded them in 2010. Each are young and boast MLS experience. Consider also that players like Brian Farber played with MLS Reserve teams. Add to that the brilliant play of goal scorer Etienne Barbara of Malta and it’s no wonder the team is so impressive.
In particular with such success on field many are wondering whether there is any interest by MLS teams in any of the Carolina players. “Yes, absolutely we have. Pretty frequently,” Johnson stated bluntly. He continued, “When you win a lot of games and you have talented players and coaches, we’ve got a lot of interest.”
A player who has frequently been the topic of those conversations is Carolina forward who has dominated the league in offensive stats, Etienne Barbara. As to whether teams have inquired about him specifically, the RailHawks president confirmed interest. “The soccer world is a small one and there is constant dialogue about good players. We’re fortunate to have a lot of good players and Etienne is one at the top of the list for a lot of people.”
Sometimes undersold is the value of Martin Rennie. The Carolina coach has a proven record as a winner. The team’s success can largely be attributed to him and Johnson was quick to give credit; “He’s provided the continuity to the organization in a lot of ways. We’ve had a lot of change over in the years the RailHawks have existed and that’s one of the main things we need to work on is to have stability.”
Further emphasizing the value of those in the RailHawks both on the roster and in the front office, “Once you get good people you’ve got to keep good people. Martin has done a fantastic job. The level of talent and the level of performance of the team under him has gotten better every year.”
The Possibility of Moving to MLS
With the success of the team on the field and success at the gate rising, many have wondered about the possibility of the entire franchise moving to MLS in the vein of Seattle or Montreal. Consider that they took their teams’ successes as a second division side and used that to parlay a role in Major League Soccer
“I certainly wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said I hadn’t thought about it. I don’t think any of us; fans, business people, players or owners that care about the RailHawks should ever put limits on what this could be.”
|WakeMed frequently houses both the Men's and Women's National Team|
“There need to be teams in the southeast and I think this market has as many pluses as any other market in the southeast. There is no reason for us to put limits on what this sport is and could mean to North Carolina.”
“There are people here in this community that have done research into it. Plans and facility-wise yes. At the end of the day it comes down to an owner that is committed, a facility and a fanbase. There is no reason this community cant have something like that.”