Article by Luke Lohr
The Carolina Railhawks took on the Puerto Rico Islanders at WakeMed Soccer Park in what was a beautiful night for soccer. Prior to the match the Railhawks held a winless (0-4-4) record with only 4 points. Puerto Rico entered with a much stronger record with (5-1-1) 16 points. However, despite the distance in points and standing, Carolina proved to be an adequate challenge for the NASL leading Islanders as the teams shared the spoils with an agonizing 1-1.
The Railhawks took the field with a slightly different lineup than in previous matches. Austin da Luz, the former Red Bull and DC United midfielder has played well in recent appearances even scoring a goal in stoppage time versus the Minnesota Stars.
Gale Agbossoumonde earned his second start of the season after coming back from turf-toe that kept him out prior. Agbossoumonde was very active for the entire match as he got involved in attacking corner kicks and shut down several Islander attacks.
Ray Burse especially impressive in the first half as he and Agbosomounde were forced to quell several serious chances. Puerto Rico was active throughout the first half, but the two teams were back and forth. Consistently orange and blue jerseys were seen streaking up and down the field.
In the 33rd minute of play, Puerto Rico went up by a score of 1-0 off a textbook set piece. The free kick came from the corner and was crossed to Jay Needam who put it right on to Jonathan Fana's chest for a goal.
Zack Schilawski was especially effective his first touch passing. Repeatedly throughout the night Schilawski would receive a pass and dish it off in the same motion. It caused havoc for the Islander's defense. Schilawski got in the 38th minute to start a series of pass that resulted in a well placed shot by Brian Shriver who forced Richard Martin into a diving save.
It seems to be Schilawksi’s mantra since he’s arrived in Carolina. He brings a dynamic to the attack, however the Carolina formation has him by himself up top, which complicates his game unnecessarily. When subbed out, Zach Schilawski exited with high praise from Colin Clarke.
Brian Shriver broke through the Puerto Rican defense with a brilliant volley that was too much for Richard Martin. The goal came in the 49th minute and sent the 3,020 fans in attendance into a frenzy.
|Austin da Luz fights for the ball|
A flurry of chances in the 81st minute saw the Railhawks nearly go up again. Colin Clarke was clearly playing for the win as Carolina was relentless in their attack. The Railhawks, desperate for a win, threw everything forward and if not for poor finishing and a handful of saves by Richard Martin, they would have walked away with their first win of the season.
Things did get especially chippy in the last ten minutes as Nick Zimmerman was the victim of a serious challenge by Edson Edwards. Tired legs on both sides lead to cramping but the track meet that was the second half continued back and forth.
The match ended 1-1 which gave the Railhawks a needed point, but still deprived them of their first win. Overall, the on-field product was much improved over what was seen at the opening of the season. The inclusion of Austin da Luz in the game was certainly positive as he added to the attack.
Said da Luz of his game, "I've been working hard to get on the field. When on my field, my job is to get the ball as much as possible and create going forward. I came off the bench for three years in college and in the MLS I was never a consistent starter, so this is something I'm familiar with and I've always found my way on the field."
His match against Puerto Rico certainly demonstrated his ability going forward. The former DC United and New York Red Bull player showed his prowess in the attack, creating multiple opportunities for his team.
|Agbossoumonde in the air.|
Having Gale Agbossoumonde on the field was also a huge upgrade for Carolina. The twenty year old was clearly a class above and provided he can stay healthy, will certainly make waves in the NASL this year. Watching him play live also afforded the opportunity to view his movement off the ball, which was impressive for a player at such a young age.
Agbossoumonde repeatedly sited his own poor fitness in the post match comments, however he did not seem to falter during the match when it mattered most.
"The team definitely played well. I'm confident because the coaches are believing in me. Once I get my fitness up I'll be good," said Gale of his play. "I like to play out of the back. With me playing out of the back, the team can build through the midfield. That's good. It's a work in progress but we're on the right path."
Coach Colin Clarke had this to say, "Gale is a great player. We knew that and he showed it tonight. Very happy with him. He's composed but he's a man. Only twenty years old and look at the size of him...he wins, balls, he's got great feet, he can pass it, he can keep it... I'm very happy he's going to be here learning, we can all watch him and see him improve as a player. It's great for everyone."
All photos courtesy of Rob Kinnan Photography
All photos courtesy of Rob Kinnan Photography