Monday, July 9, 2012

NASL: Carolina Still Vying for League's Elite

Article by Luke Lohr

The past two matches for the Carolina RailHawks have served as evidence that the team is still rebuilding in the wake of Martin Rennie's departure at the end of last season. The team sits now in 5th place with a humble 5-6-5 record. This in stark contrast to where the team was a year ago when they were tearing up the league and the very definition of NASL elite.

Despite last year's ghost lurking in the shadow's, the new RailHawks have made significant improvement from the squad that was still learning what Colin Clarke wanted of them at the beginning of the 2012 NASL season. New players, new attitudes and new ideas were brought in and results were slow to come. Now though, the team is beginning to find rhythm through an impressive offense and a midfield that attacks mercilessly. Still though, the inconsistent defensive lapses and mis-communications have cost the team valuable points in keeping them out of the league's top teams.

In the past two home matches, the team has collected four total points. The first three came against a lowly Atlanta Silverbacks side which has recently found hope in their new Interim Head Coach Eric Wynalda. In Wynalda's opening match, the RailHawks dominated much of the play, but a defensive miscue lead to giving up a goal that gave Carolina cause to sweat.

On beating the Silverbacks and Eric Wynalda, Carolina head coach Colin Clarke had this to say: "I'm just gald I beat him or I'd have never heard the end of it. He only just got here. I'm sure he'll improve the team and make them better. Hopefully, he'll enjoy it. He's always got opinions about something. Now he's got to put his opinions on the line, so to speak, rather than talk about other people. So it'll be fun to watch."

For Wynalda's part, a resilient match against Carolina was followed up by a league win against Minnesota.

Back on the Carolina side of things, a frustrating match with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers again highlighted a powerful offense and a leaky defense. Nick Zimmerman continued to show why he is such a valuable asset for the RailHawks (so much so, that unconfirmed reports have him listed as a prime target for several MLS teams). Mike Palacio filling in for the injured Austin Da Luz had a stellar night with two goals and was a constant threat to the Strikers' goal.

After going up a goal early, Carolina failed to finish despite numerous chances. The failure to capitalize on 14 shots in the first half allowed Ft. Lauderdale to rally behind playmaker Walter Restrepo who clearly carried his squad against the run of play.

Still a late game resurgence and offensive substitutions from Carolina saw the team response by scoring two goals after the 86th minute to end the match 3-3. While many will applaud the efforts of the team to rally from behind, the defensive lapses will likely be on the mind of Colin Clark in the two week hiatus before league matches resume.

The youthful duo of Gale Agboussomonde and Austin King must find a way to remain focused for the entire 90 minutes. If that happens, then you can expect Carolina to spring higher in the standings. If it does not, then expect more up and down results through NASL action.

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