After an eight-day layoff, the Carolina RailHawks return to the field on Saturday at 7 p.m., when they will face the Puerto Rico Islanders at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Puerto Rico enters the week atop the USL-1 table with 25 points, while Carolina and Charleston are tied for second place with 24. Portland (23 points) is also lurking near the top.
Before coming to Cary on Saturday, Puerto Rico will wrap up its season series with the Battery in Charleston on Thursday. What happens at Blackbaud Stadium will determine what is at stake on Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park.
In order for the RailHawks to claim sole possession of first place, they need Puerto Rico and Charleston to tie on Thursday night and they need to beat the Islanders on Saturday. If Charleston and Carolina both beat Puerto Rico, the Battery and RailHawks would be tied for first place.
The RailHawks and Islanders enter the weekend on opposite streaks. The RailHawks are 1-2-2 in the month of June and are winless over their last four matches (including the U.S. Open Cup). Puerto Rico, meanwhile, is unbeaten over its last six outings (5-0-1). Five weeks ago, the Islanders were 2-1-2 and in sixth place in the USL-1 with eight points.
“I think they’re one of the best teams, not only in our league but in the whole CONCACAF region. So we know they’re a good team,” said RailHawks coach Martin Rennie. “I know it will be a big test and I think we’ll do well. I know having a week to prepare will help us a lot and getting a couple players back from injury will be big for us, too.”
In five previous meetings, the RailHawks are 0-4-1 against the Islanders, and Puerto Rico has outscored Carolina 9-1 in those five games. In 2008, the RailHawks did not score a goal against Puerto Rico in any of their three matches.
But prior to this year, the RailHawks had never won a season opener, never won three games in a row (let alone four or five), nor ever defeated Rochester. Carolina has accomplished all of those things this season.
SCOUTING PUERTO RICO
After floundering early in the season, the Islanders (7-3-4) enter the weekend riding a six-match unbeaten streak (5-0-1). They shot to the top of the USL-1 table last weekend after beating Charleston 1-0 twice in three days in Bayamón to end the Battery’s 12-match unbeaten streak.
The Islanders have scored a league-high 21 goals this season, and the 16 goals they’ve allowed is tied for the third most. The goal differential of plus-5 is tied with the RailHawks for second best in the USL-1. The Islanders have three shutouts to their credit, tied with five other teams for the second fewest in the league, while they have been shutout only twice, tied with Vancouver for fewest in the league.
Defender Cristian Arrieta leads the league in goals (six) and points (15), while forward Nicholas Adderly’s four goals leave him tied with three others for second most in the league. Defender John Krause has also scored three goals.
Bill Gaudette, the 2008 USL-1 Goalkeeper of the Year, leads all USL-1 goalkeepers in minutes (1,260), wins (seven) and saves (61), and his 1.14 goals against averages rates seventh.
Jonny Steele, the 2008 USL-1 MVP, has two goals and an assist in nine appearances this season.
Saturday’s match will mark the first of three meetings between Carolina and Puerto Rico in 2009. They will meet again at WakeMed Soccer Park on Sept. 12 and at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in Bayamón on Sept. 14.
The RailHawks are 0-4-1 against the Islanders all time, and Puerto Rico has outscored Carolina 9-1 in those five games. The RailHawks have not led the Islanders for any minute in their five previous meetings.
May 4, 2007: T, 0-0
The RailHawks peppered Puerto Rico goalkeeper Josh Saunders with 21 shots and the Carolina defense held the Islanders to just seven shots, but the match ended a scoreless draw. Chris McClellan made five saves for the RailHawks, while Saunders had six for Puerto Rico.
July 22, 2007: L, 3-1
Puerto Rico’s Noah Delgado scored three minutes in to set the stage for a wild first half at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium. Carolina’s Joey Worthen equalized in the 19th minute, but Taiwo Atieno put the Islanders ahead for good in the 19th minute before Delgado struck again in the 41st. The match featured 32 fouls and five cautions.
June 12, 2008: L, 3-0
Puerto Rico’s Kendall Jagdeosingh scored 13 minutes in at Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium and Noah Delgado doubled up the RailHawks in the 23rd minute. John Krause tacked one on for good measure in the 61st minute, and former RailHawk Jonny Steele had two assists to sink the RailHawks 3-0. The Islanders held Carolina to just three shots.
July 18, 2008: L, 2-0
Puerto Rico scored twice in the first 34 minutes to continue their mastery over the RailHawks. Josh Hansen opened the scoring in the 16th minute and Fabrice Noel scored the insurance goal in the 34th.
August 3, 2008: L, 1-0
Cristian Arrieta scored the game’s only goal in the 37th minute on an assist from Jonny Steele. The RailHawks mustered five shots, but Puerto Rico goalkeeper Bill Gaudette made three saves to keep his third shutout of the year against Carolina intact.
LAST TIME OUT
The RailHawks earned a point at Austin on June 19 with a 1-1 tie at Nelson Field. Matt Watson put the RailHawks up 1-0 in the 17th minute with his first goal of the season. But Austin’s Eddie Johnson equalized for the home side and the match ended in a draw. In two trips to Austin, the RailHawks have earned four points this season. They will wrap up the season series with the Aztex on Aug.1 at WakeMed Soccer Park.
* Midfielder Matt Watson scored his first goal of the season last week at Austin, making him the 11thth different RailHawk to be named to a Team of the Week. RailHawk to score a goal this season. He was named to the USL-1 Team of the Week for Week 11 for his role in the RailHawks’ tie at Austin, making him the 10
* Midfielder Josh Gardner recorded his second assist of the season last week at Austin.
* Goalkeeper Eric Reed has more saves (nine) in his last two starts than he did in his first five (eight).
2008 VS 2009 SEASON COMPARISON
Through 13 games in 2008: 4-4-5, 12 GF, 17 GA, 4 SO, 17 points
Through 13 games in 2009: 7-3-3, 13 GF, 8 GA, 8 SO, 23 points
USL-1 Team of the Week
Week 2: Josh Gardner, Jack Stewart
USL-1 Goal of the Week
Week 1: Mark Schulte
CAROLINA VS USL-1
The following are RailHawks team statistics for the year, and in parentheses is where they rank in each category compared to the rest of the USL-1.
Shots: 141 (2nd)
Tuesday, June 23
Vancouver 2, Cleveland 2
Thursday, June 25
Puerto Rico at Charleston, 8 p.m.
Saturday, June 27
Austin at Cleveland, 7 p.m.
Sunday, June 28
Montreal at Portland, 8 p.m.
Puerto Rico (7-3-4, 25 points)
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 Charl