Saturday, June 27, 2009
CARY, NC — The Carolina RailHawks have been rewriting the club record book all season, but they earned a new distinction Saturday night that they surely could have done without.
Falling 2-1 to the Puerto Rico Islanders at WakeMed Soccer Park marks the first time the RailHawks have ever lost a league match in which they scored the game’s first goal. Prior to Saturday, the RailHawks were 24-0-9 in such games.
Amir Lowery gave the RailHawks a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute. But Puerto Rico’s Jonny Steele, a former RailHawk, equalized two minutes later, and Peter Villegas scored the game winner for the visitors in the 63rd minute.
The result, which leaves the RailHawks winless over their last five (0-3-2), was particularly galling because a win would have put them atop the USL-1 table with Charleston. Instead, the loss leaves the RailHawks (7-4-3, 24 points) in third place and they could drop to fourth, depending on the result from Sunday evening’s Portland-Montreal match.
“We’re in a little bit of a bad run right now,” said Carolina coach Martin Rennie. “Every team has a run where they don’t do their best. Tonight, we played O.K. at times, but we weren’t at our best. And when you’re not at your best in this league, you’re going to lose or you’re at least not going to win. When you get in a bad run, you just have to take stock and get your sleeves rolled up and get out of it. That’s what we have to work toward. We’re in a good position, but we’re in a slump we need to get out of.”
Lowery’s strike makes him the 12th different RailHawk to score this season.
It was just the second goal the RailHawks have scored against the Islanders in six meetings and first since July 22, 2007, ending a streak of 361 minutes without a goal against Puerto Rico.
The RailHawks outshot Puerto Rico (8-4-4) 14-11, but Islanders goalkeeper Bill Gaudette turned in an eight-save effort – pushing his league-leading save total to 72 – to deny the RailHawks their first ever win over the Islanders. Puerto Rico now owns a 5-0-1 mark in the series.
In the fifth minute, Carolina’s John Cunliffe manufactured a look at the goal with some clever footwork. His strike from 18 yards caught Gaudette off guard, but he recovered nicely and tipped the ball over the crossbar.
In the 18th minute, Cunliffe served a ball over the Puerto Rico defense to Gavin Glinton. Glinton was sandwiched by two defenders as he broke in on goal, and Gaudette came off his line and snuffed out the chance.
Puerto Rico had its first chance on a 13th minute corner kick. Villegas served the ball in and Cristian Arrieta flicked it toward the goal, but Carolina goalkeeper Caleb Patterson (four saves) smothered it for his first save of the match.
While the next 30 minutes lacked little excitement, the teams packed plenty into the first half’s final five.
In the 40th minute, Lowery found a loose ball at his foot from eight yards out following a Mark Schulte throw-in, and he hammered a shot past Gaudette.
“I usually jump for the first ball and try and flick it on to the back post,” Lowery said. “The throw went over my head. And as I turned, it deflected off one of their guys. It sat up nicely for me and I just hit it.”
It was also the first goal Lowery has scored during his five-year professional career.
“It happened so quick. I was super excited,” Lowery said. “But it’s tough to score it in a loss.”
And that elation was shortlived.
Two minutes later, Puerto Rico’s Steele spotted Arrieta unmarked on a free kick from 30 yards, but Arrieta’s half-volley from 12 yards hit the post. Seconds later, though, Steele jumped on a loose ball in the box and knocked it by Patterson to even the match at 1-1.
Carolina nearly went ahead just before halftime. Daniel Paladini hit a curling 25-yard free kick over Puerto Rico’s five-man wall, but his shot crashed off the post – the fifth time this season Paladini’s found the woodwork.
When the Islanders got their next chance, they capitalized. On a free kick from 30 yards, Steele served the ball to the back post. Arrieta brought it down and fired a shot on goal. Patterson made the initial save, but the rebound went into the middle of the area, and Villegas belted it in.
Opportunities were scarce for the RailHawks in the second half, but Lowery nearly doubled his pleasure in stoppage time. Following a Schulte throw-in, the ball again found its way to Lowery’s foot. But his left-footed try from 12 yards was saved.
“As I turned, I thought I wouldn’t have that much time,” Lowery said. “I could have settled myself and gotten a better look.”
The RailHawks will step out of league play for a pair of friendlies next week. On Tuesday, they will face the Panama National Team at WakeMed Soccer Park at 7 p.m., and the match will serve as one last tune-up for Panama before it begins play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Also, on July 3, the RailHawks will meet the Wilmington Hammerheads at WakeMed Soccer Park at 7 p.m. They will return to USL-1 play on July 11, when they travel to Charleston.