CARY, N.C. – When the Carolina RailHawks kick off against English Premier League (EPL) side West Ham United in front of a sold out crowd at WakeMed Soccer Park on Tuesday, expect an entertaining match.
While the RailHawks, recent 4-1 winners over the Tampa Bay Rowdies, will be led by North American Soccer League (NASL) Player of the Week, Nazmi Albadawi, the Hammers will have captain Mark Noble leading them onto the pitch as part of his squad’s preseason training tour.
It is a historic match-up taking place in the Triangle as West Ham is the first EPL representative to play in the area, and both sides were looking to keep it friendly, yet competitive when asked during the game’s press conference held at the Umstead Hotel and Spa on Monday.
“We want to win the game, but as long as we get through this with minutes played and get experience without any of our players getting injured, then it will be a successful night,” Noble said.
“Don’t forget, we’ve only been back 10 days now and you boys are midway through your season, coming off a 4-1 victory as well, so it’s gonna be a tough game.”
Following a 3-0 loss to the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer (MLS) last Tuesday, the Hammers flew into RDU on Saturday, and conducted a training session while the RailHawks were hosting the Rowdies on the adjacent practice field.
They continued their training with a Sunday morning session on the practice pitch, an event that was well attended by the English club’s far-reaching fan base.
West Ham manager Slaven Bilic expressed his appreciation for the quality of conditions his team has worked under during its U.S. tour.
“We are so satisfied here because of the facilities – in Seattle and here in Cary,” Bilic said.
“In Europe we have this too, but it’s one step above – perfect conditions for this stage of the preseason.”
Though weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest mimicked those of back home, the North Carolina heat and humidity following practice required the Hammers training staff to improvise with coolers of ice poured into rubber garbage pails as makeshift recovery ice baths for the players to immerse themselves in.
Even in adjusting to such conditions, Noble stated that he was happy to come play against the RailHawks.
“We had a lot of options in what we we’re going to do, and I think the club made the right choice to come here,” he said.
“It’s great for us to train in this heat.”
For Carolina manager Colin Clarke, the occasion of facing West Ham was an exciting opportunity for his players to further test their skills and ability.
“When they step on the field, I know they’re going to be competitive,” Clarke said.
“They’re working hard to just start their preseason and get fitness and get to know each other, and it’s a time for our players to go out and enjoy it – step on the field and test themselves against some of the best players in the world. Sure, it will be more relaxed, but when you get on the field, you’re gonna want to win and you want to come out on top.”
Though not necessarily a win-at-all costs matchup, both sides will play for pride, compete hard for those in attendance, and help to increase their brand and style of play for many watching on television.
A pre-kickoff flyover will take place while postgame fireworks will cap off the night’s activities at the facility – both enveloping another high-profile professional soccer event that the RailHawks have brought to the area.
Albadawi, a Raleigh native and N.C. State grad echoed the significance of it all for him and his teammates.
“It’s one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League which is the biggest league in the world.
“For us as players, it’s a dream come true to play against people we’ve been watching every weekend on TV. Individually I have high goals for myself, as a team we have high goals as well, and what better way to find out where you are as a player than to play against such players. It is preseason for them, and it would be awesome to win against them of course, but they’re one of the best teams in the world for a reason. It won’t be easy, but it will be a good game.”