Photos by Rob Kinnan
Those new eyes were treated to a stunning 2-1 upset victory by Carolina over MLS Defending Champion LA Galaxy.
The RailHawks put out the same starting lineup that was so successful versus PSA Elite, save for one exception. Ray Burse was in goal for Carolina in place of second string Akira Fitzgerald. This lineup took the field against a largely reserve squad for LA, but one that still boasted veterans such as Chad Barrett and Pat Noonan.
LA controlled much of the match and put the RailHawks on their heels early. The Galaxy dominated the run of play and out-shot Carolina 7-1 in the first half. Only one of those shots found the back of the net however, with Pat Noonan blasting a shot past a diving Ray Burse in the 38th.
As the two teams took the field in the second half, it was clear that Carolina had found new heart and they pressed the tiring MLS side. However, it was the substitutions made by Colin Clarke after the 60th minute that truly ignited the RailHawk's attack. Proving most effective was Ty Shipalane. The South African's speed was unrivaled and he broke through the Los Angeles defense on more than one occasion.
Shipalane proved to be the catalyst as the RailHawks scored two unanswered goals to take the victory. The first was of Shipalane's own doing as he made one of his trademark runs, complete with step-overs, and beat Bill Gaudette in the 75th. He replicated the play however through more traffic and the resulting scramble allowed Brian Shriver to finish the ball in the 88th minute, which sent the roughly 8,000 fans into a frenzy.
NASL Commissioner David Downs had this to say after the match: "It's fantastic for us as a league. We're trying to improve our credibility with the fans and prove that we belong. We know that sometimes the ball bounces a certain way and the peril of being an MLS side in this tournament is they're expected to win. If they don't win that's unfortunate but we [NASL] have nothing to lose in these matches so we play that way. I think throughout the game Carolina proved that they could play with the Galaxy and in the end, stole a game that looked like it was going to overtime."
"It's a great feeling, they're after all the MLS Champions."
The NASL was absent from the tournament last season due to delayed sanctioning. This year however, they're making quite a mark. On returning to the competition after a hiatus Downs continued, "It's tremendously important to be here. It's great to be back in the tournament and I love the new format. It's a brilliant format, loads of fun and all our teams are hungry that's for sure."
The Galaxy faithful will struggle to find positives, but they can look to a full 90 minutes served by recently returned centerback Leonardo. This was Leonardo's first match since April of 2011.
Carolina will now play host to Chivas USA, the other Los Angeles based MLS squad, on June 5th.