Photos by Rob Kinnan
Chivas USA did their due diligence prior to their match with the Carolina RailHawks. Rather than take the tier 2 team lightly, the MLS side sent a scout ahead of their match and reviewed film to understand their opponent. It paid of as they were able to take a 2-1 victory over Carolina and advance in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Robin Fraser was very clear of his intent to win the tournament and while in many cases that is simply standard pre-game speech for many, Fraser's action and line-up made his intent clear.
"I thought the game started very well for us," said Fraser after the match. "We probably didn't do well enough with our chances early but give Carolina credit. They came back in to the game and found chances to be dangerous. We looked to get out in the second half and put them under pressure but again, credit to Carolina they stepped up and made it very difficult for us. I credit our guys for coming back and winning the game."
The Carolina RailHawks for their part did the same. They studied their opponents and had a game plan. What resulted was a thrilling match in front of a near sold out crowd at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. The RailHawks were a week off of an upset victory over defending MLS champion LA Galaxy and three days off a victory over NASL leaders the Puerto Rico Islanders. Three games in eight days certainly took a toll on Carolina, but they got up for this match.
On display for Chivas were a healthy contingent of starters, including Juan Agudelo, who opened the scoring in the 31st minute after a brilliant set up from Courtois. Gale Agbossoumonde and Austin King were under heavy pressure in the back and many times was Ray Burse called upon to make a save. Still, seeing young US Internationals like Agudelo and Agbossoumonde do battle through the night was worthwhile.
Carolina was on their heels for much of the first half despite creating and moving the ball well. In the second half they began to take a bit more control of the game and truly go toe to toe with the MLS outfit. Mike Palacio, a former MLSer with New York, entered the match in the 78th minute only to score in the 79th and tie the match.
Zack Schilawski's work rate on the night was outstanding and recognized by both coaches. Two chances in particular stood out as he forced a brilliant save from Melia and the second he climbed over two Chivas defenders to head the ball just off the crossbar.
What looks to to be a dead even battle headed for extra time was undone by an unfortunate bit of luck in the final minute of stoppage. Juan Pablo Angel found himself in space and was in all alone until Gale Agbossoumonde made a valiant effort to slide in front of the shot. Angel's experience and cunning won out as he cut the ball back, only to have it roll over Abgossoumonde's arm for a clear hand ball. The resulting PK was finished by the Colombian and Chivas exited the match with a 2-1 victory over Carolina.
Both teams however were impressive on the night and showed great respect for one another. The game was heated and competitive, showing exactly what this tournament was all about.
Carolina Coach Colin Clarke was proud not only of his team, but of the amazing support demonstrated by the Carolina community. "I'm extremely proud of the boys for the effort they put out there today. We were the better team and unfortunate circumstances at the end cost us the match. The fans today were great and we hope they come back and support us. We still have a long season ahead and need the support we got over the last two weeks."
Looking ahead, Robin Fraser has seen his team improve in both league and tournament play. "There's no secret. The guys work hard and it's a relatively new group. It takes time for things to gel but it is coming together. It's not nearly where we want to be but we continue to show signs of improvement and we've got to keep plugging away. I feel like the harder we work the better things will get."
Perhaps more recognized than any other player for Chivas USA, Juan Pablo Angel received a great deal of attention despite being in a non-MLS city. On coming to Carolina and feeling out the match, JPA had this to say: "First of all, I was extremely impressed with the facilities and the fan support and they really have a incredible set up here with a great environment. So it was a great experience and a fantastic game."
When asked about how he was settling in to Chivas after moving from New York, Agudelo commented "You know it's been tough. That kind of stuff is stressful for a 19 year old, but the team has really helped me and I thank them." It would seem Chivas fans have much to look forward to out of the Colombian duo.
Agudelo can expect to be recognized where ever he might go due to his time and potential with the US National Team. But Juan Pablo Angel may not enjoy the same spotlight outside of MLS venues in North America. He was recognized by a healthy contingent of fans in Carolina on the night. "It's great, I'm getting toward the end of the career and any time I hear someone shouting my name is phenomenal," reflects a smiling Juan Pablo Angel. "It's something no one can take away from you. They had a great venue and fantastic atmosphere...it was just fantastic."