CARY, N.C. – It was as dynamic a match that the Carolina RailHawks had played all season.
The 6,106 in attendance who witnessed it all at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday could attest to watching the RailHawks compile the dramatic 3-2 victory over the North American Soccer League’s (NASL) top team in the Indy Eleven.
Omar Bravo led the RailHawks to victory in the dying minutes of extra time with a penalty kick conversion that capped off single goal performances from Matt Fondy and Steven Miller.
Goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald’s work in goal with five saves on seven shots faced held the defensive side firm to earn the avictory.
“Delighted with the result obviously,” Carolina head coach Colin Clarke stated afterwards.
“I thought it was a great performance, particularly the second half. You know, we’ve stood here a few times over the last month or two when things haven’t gone our way, and we’ve felt a little begrieved. I thought we got what we deserved tonight. I thought we were the better team over the 90 minutes.”
Earning their first win since mid-July, Carolina put together an end-to-end display of ball movement, defensive positioning and countering that ended with a win following three draws and two losses in their last five matches.
It was a welcome result according to Miller, who tallied his first career NASL marker as part of keeping pace with the equally dynamic Eleven.
“Huge win, much needed, just so happy at this point,” the defender said.
“It’s huge – especially at home. A crowd like that, they willed us to victory. They were great.”
The energy in the stands resembled Euro-style football and included multiple colored flare lightings that brought heavy hazes of smoke over the field at times while both teams competed at a high pace of play right from the opening kickoff.
Carolina threatened early as Matt Watson place a low ball towards Indy keeper Jon Busch’s left.
However, Busch made a diving save, denying the first of five direct scoring attempts that came his way throughout, and kept the game scoreless through the 10th minute.
At the other end, Indy was equally as vigilant offensively, and opened the game’s scoring in the 20th minute.
Brad Ring’s well-placed corner kick from Fitzgerald’s right found Greg Janicki who connected with a header and put the visitors ahead 1-0.
While the Eleven continued to press, a defiant Carolina defense gained possession, worked the ball up field, and Fondy eventually evened the score 1-1 just two minutes later.
Scoring his fifth goal of the Fall season, Fondy connected with a turnaround ground-height ball that beat Busch from 12 yards out.
Nazmi Albadawi earned the assist by threading a clean pass inside the box to initiate the strike.
With smoke hovering over the pitch following Carolina’s goal, the excitement from the home side supporters was muted six minutes later when a penalty kick was assessed to Indy following a holding foul by defender Drew Beckie on Souleymane Youla.
Eamon Zayed converted on the PK and put Indy ahead 2-1.
The Eleven carried the one-goal advantage through the halftime break.
The same pace continued between both sides to begin the second half and resulted in Miller’s tying goal nine minutes in.
He volleyed what looked like a high, crossing pass into the box, but the result was a ball that arched high over Busch and into the goal.
“We’ve been working on lock-ins all week,” Miller said.
“Ball’s on the opposite side of the field, I’m told to get high and push in on their outside midfielder. (Austin) Da Luz played a ball across, it got punched out by the keeper, and bounced out to me. I just lit up and tried to put it in a dangerous spot. Not going to say it was a cross or shot. I tried to put it in a dangerous spot and luckily enough it went in.”
Carolina continued to press into the 58th minute looking to gain its first lead.
Indy did not relent either, and it took aggressive marking and positioning for the RailHawks to deny the Eleven a chance to pull ahead as play continued into the 63rd minute.
Carolina soon earned what looked like a penalty kick opportunity.
The referee pointed towards the spot, but following consultation with the assistant referee, it was deemed the Indy foul occurred outside the box.
Bravo’s direct kick attempt made it through the wall of defenders, but didn’t elude Busch who punched it away and play continued on.
Omar Gordon soon led an Indy attack that Connor Tobin broke up.
To counter, Brian Shriver threaded a cross into the Indy crease during the 76th minute of play, but the Eleven defense doubled up to deny the ball from continuing further through.
As the 2-2 standoff continued, something then happened.
Carolina seemed to lose momentum as its legs slowed to more of a standstill and walk rather than the running pace the RailHawks maintained through the 83rd minute.
The Eleven seemed to find more open space through which to move the ball.
Indy head coach Tim Hankinson noted Carolina’s work in defending effectively at a point in the game he thought they would be tiring.
“We put Duke (Lacroix) and Omar Gordon in to give the game some pace at the end feeling as though defenders are getting tired,” Hankinson said.
“We were not building numbers on the attack very well at that point in the match and our players hit a fatigue point. We thought the breakaway opportunity would come for us. We just didn’t complete the job.”
Even as the RailHawks mounted multiple attacks during the final minutes of play, it seemed that the passing and shooting accuracy they possessed earlier equally eluded them with overrun passes and missed shot attempts resulting.
However, it all righted itself.
A hand-ball play in the box by Ring provided Carolina the opportunity to score, and for all intents and purposes win the game in extra time during the 93rd minute.
Bravo converted from the 12-yard spot and made no mistake in beating Busch low and to his left to put Carolina ahead 3-2.
Scoring his fourth goal in his fifth NASL game played, the Mexican star soared around the field with his arms out and into the embrace of his teammates amid screaming supporters who lit orange smoke flares in celebration.
Needing to reset for play to restart, the RailHawks waited for only a few moments before the final whistle blast confirmed their triumphant result.
CAR 3, IND 2
CAR: Akira Fitzgerald; Paul Black, Drew Beckie, Connor Tobin, Steven Miller; Matt Watson, Austin da Luz (Jonathon Orlando 89), Nazmi Albadawi ©, Tiyi Shipalane (Brian Shriver 70); Omar Bravo (Mickey Daly 90+), Matt Fondy
IND: Jon Busch; Nemanja Vukovic, Greg Janicki, Cory Miller, Lovel Palmer; Dylan Mares (Duke Lacroix 67), Gerardo Torrado, Brad Ring, Don Smart (Omar Gordon 67); Eamon Zayed, Souleymane Youla (Nicki Paterson 78)
Goals: CAR: Fondy (Albadawi 22), Miller (54), Bravo (PK, 90+); IND: Janicki (Ring 20), Zayed (PK, 28)
Cautions: CAR –; IND —
Ejections: CAR –; IND —