Monday, October 17, 2011

Carolina Railhawks End the Season with Class

Soccer can be a cruel game. Sometimes you can do everything right and fall short of victory. That was the case for the Carolina Railhawks in their final match of the season. The stage was set for an incredible night of drama and both teams delivered. The second leg of the NASL semi-final between Carolina and Minnesota was one for the history books.

Carolina hosted the second leg and began the match trailing by a 1-0 aggregate score. Carolina knew the task at hand and set about it the moment the whistle blew. The game began and the Railhawks were immediately in the attack with quick, cheeky passes and skill that was, for a time, unmatched. However, the initial energy displayed gave way to a more practical approach by both teams.

The game was back and forth throughout, though when the goals came, they came with drama. Minnesota was first to strike as they took the lead in the 40th minute on a goal from Andrei Gotsmanov after taking a deflection off of Gareth Evans. The Stars held the lead 2-0 on aggregate at this point.

Still, the Railhawks persisted as Pablo Campos struck back for Carolina in stoppage time of the first half. The two teams went into the locker rooms with the score time but Minnesota still holding the overall edge.

As they returned to the field it was clear the game held a new air about it. Tension was high and drama ensued. The Stars struck for a second time in the 52nd to give them a 3-1 lead on aggregate. Again the Railhawks fought back as Pablo Campos returned fire with a PK in the 60th minute. Three minutes later, Carolina substitute Nick Zimmerman came on and tallied a goal of his own to see the aggregate score go to 3-2 and 3-3 overall.

The excitement did not end there. After a scramble in the Carolina box, the referee produced a red card to Devon McKenney in the 66th minute and awarded a penalty kick to Minnesota. Neil Hlavaty buried the ball and again the Stars took the lead.

With the Stars holding a man and goal advantage, the Railhawks looked all but finished. It was as if fate conspired to see Carolina removed from the game. Still, the Railhawks battled on and fought fate. The two teams continued to rally back and forth, both displaying some of their best soccer in months.

With the game winding down, Carolina threw everyone forward and in stoppage time Pablo Campos completed his hat-trick to give the Hawks a one goal lead and tie the aggregate. With overtime forced, the two teams gave everything they had. Players were drenched in sweat on a cold night and legs were heavy. Several players were cramping up as extra-time wore on. Campos had to stop on three separate occasions due to cramping.

“I gave everything I had,” said Campos. “I’m far away from my family and here for soccer. I was looking to get to the finals tonight and win a trophy for the fans…My inspiration tonight was that I love soccer. So, I gave it everything I could and did the things the coach asked. I gave it all…”

Joe Warren with an incredible PK save.

The two extra time halves ended with no goals being scored and penalty kicks ensued. It was there that a save from Minnesota keeper Joe Warren proved the difference and the Stars advanced to the NASL final.

Martin Rennie’s words after coaching his final game for Carolina were ones of bittersweet sentiment. “First of all, congratulations to Minnesota. It’s a great achievement for them to get to the NASL championship and I wish them all the best in the finals. I’m really proud of my players tonight. I couldn’t ask for any more as far as their effort and determination. They left everything on the field tonight and the crowd responded.

“It’s disappointing to lose. Penalty kicks are always the hardest way to go. I think it’s even harder after being down to 10 men for so long and having to play a full extra time. Tonight was just one of those nights. Things didn’t bounce our way.”

Rennie continued to applaud the play of his team as well as the play of Minnesota.

“Sometimes in life things just aren’t meant to go your way. Over the course of these two games, things could have easily gone our way and it didn’t for whatever reason. But, it was never a matter of a lack of team effort, it’s never been a lack of team chemistry, it’s never been a lack of desire and it’s never been a lack of good players. It just wasn’t mean to be tonight. Unfortunately that hurts and it’s painful, but that’s soccer. One of the reasons we love it is it can throw out great highs and it can hit you with real deep lows. You have to be able to handle both of those in life.”

Let it be noted that Carolina played its best soccer in months and the players gave absolutely everything they had. Tears nagged the players’ eyes after the match as so many of them put their hearts, bodies and minds into the match. Truly impressive was their resilience after being down a goal and a man for much of the game.

*All photos here were courtesy of Rob Kinnan Photography. Rob's work this season has been fantastic with the Railhawks. Visit his site here: *

1 comment:

  1. What a game! Very sad ending but an amazing display of futbol. Go Railhawks!!