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MICHAEL MCLOONE – newsobserver.com
Puerto Rico’s Sandy Gbandi celebrates his goal in the first half against the Carolina RailHawks.
 
By J. Mike Blakenewsobserver.com
 
CARY — There will be no USSF D2 championship for the Carolina RailHawks.
 
In the week leading up to Saturday’s second and final leg of the championship series, RailHawks players — trailing 2-0 after the first leg — talked of the importance of scoring the first goal at home.

But in the 7th minute, Sandy Gbandi weaved his way through the RailHawks box and netted a goal for the Puerto Rico Islanders in front of the 5,074 fans who packed WakeMed Soccer Park. It put the Islanders up 3-0 on aggregate goals, which proved to be too much to overcome as the RailHawks fell 3-1 in the series after tying 1-1 in the second leg.

 
«Over the two games, we really didn’t perform at the level we had been performing,» RailHawks coach Martin Rennie said. «A lot of damage was done in Puerto Rico. It was always going to be hard coming back from [down] two. But coming back from three [goals] was even harder.»

The RailHawks had their chances, but Islanders’ goalkeeper Bill Gaudette had the answer all of them, save for a Tom Heinemann goal in the 10th.

«It hurt us letting that third goal go in,» Heinemann said. «We’re a great team and we made a great run.»

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In the 12th minute, Heinemann’s blast deflected high off a Puerto Rico defender and on top of the netting.

Kupono Low’s free kick in the 23rd hit the top of the crossbar. Floyd Franks blew a close attempt on a rebound in the 35th, sailing it into the parking lot behind goal.

In the 57th and 58th minute, RailHawks midfielder Daniel Paladini powered two shots on goal that were knocked away only after diving attempts by Gaudette.

Paladini had a free kick in stoppage time that was also deflected at the last minute by Gaudette, compelling the all-league player to congratulate the Islanders’ keeper after the game.

«I just told Gaudette right now [that] he saved them,» Paladini said. «He was picking stuff out of the corners that should’ve gone in.»

The RailHawks subbed in speedy forwards like Gregory Richardson and Tiyi Shipalane, but to no avail.

It was the first time Carolina had ever advanced to the Division 2 championship in their four years of existence. The RailHawks won the NASL Conference championship after a 13-9-8 regular season.

But the sting of the loss was too much at the time for Rennie to enjoy how far his team had come in his second year at the helm.
«It’ll take some time to reflect on it,» Rennie said. «But the goal wasn’t to get to the final it was to win the final. … It’s certainly painful to lose it and I just want to take it all in so it hurts a lot, and so that it motivates me even more in the future.»

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Edwin Jusino
Director Ejecutivo de FutbolBoricua.net. Actualmente estudiante de Historia de las Américas en programa combinado Maestría/PhD de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, Recinto Metropolitano. Lleva más de una década cubriendo el fútbol de Puerto Rico. Actualmente está trabajando su disertación doctoral sobre el pasado presidente de la FPF, el Dr. Roberto Monroig. Hincha del Club Atlético de Madrid y de la Selección Nacional de Fútbol de Puerto Rico. Puede contactarle via twitter o Instagram en @erjusinoa