CARY, N.C. – The Carolina RailHawks suffered their first loss of the season, a 2-1 decision to the Atlanta Silverbacks in front of 4,489 in attendance at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.
Defender Blake Wagner scored the lone marker for Carolina while goalkeeper Hunter Gilstrap, faced seven shots, making a save on one of the three that made to the goal.
Shaka Bangura and Jonathan Okafor led Atlanta’s offense while keeper C. J. Cochran saw seven shots hover in and around his goal, making critical stops on three of them.
Each team entered their first NASL matchup of the season undefeated, but only one left that way.
While Carolina sat atop the league table with a win and a draw, the Silverbacks’ two previous draws had them in the middle of the pack.
Carolina expected to face a defensive-heavy 4-4-2 formation from the Silverbacks, and they got it.
“We had a great first half but could not take advantage of some of the opportunities we created,” RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke said.
“Atlanta played a very solid defensive game and made things difficult for us in the second half.”
It wasn’t surprising to watch each side measure themselves for the first 15 minutes of play, with possession changing constantly outside the tops of the 18-yard boxes.
“We had a game plan, I thought we stuck to it very well,” Atlanta head coach Gary Smith said.
“We got our reward with some excellent performances within that as well.”
Following the game’s first corner kick in the 16th minute, the Silverbacks narrowly missed on a dangerous shot attempt.
It was the first real threat by either team to break the scoreless tie.
Carolina’s Mark Anderson unloaded a dangerous boot from 20 yards out that hit the post to Cochran’s right and kept the contest scoreless.
Both teams eventually headed to their locker rooms still tied 0-0 at the half.
The pace of play during the final 45 minutes was markedly increased and highlighted more forward progress and shot attempts.
Carolina presented more attacks than Atlanta did, by a 13-9 margin, but could not connect as quickly and effectively.
Bangura finally connected and scored during 48th minute to put Atlanta ahead 1-0.
Carolina continued to counter and generated some impressive offensive sequences, but either missed the goal or were denied by Cochran.
Okafor extended the Silverbacks lead to two goals on a redirect past a frozen Gilstrap in the 68th minute.
It eventually became the game-winner as the RailHawks could only connect on one chance in the 82nd minute.
Wagner scored his first of the season, striking a punched ball from Cochran into the back of the goal from 12 yards out.
Ty Shipalane put a high cross into the crease, but the Atlanta keeper got his hands on the ball unopposed and redirected it to the right where it rolled until Wagner raced in to power into the goal.
“I was pushin’ up as much as I could because we were down and I thought we’ll take a risk, and fortunately it helped to potentially get back into the game.”
The goal got the crowd revitalized for one last push by the home side.
Unfortunately, the final result was an opportunity missed to earn three points at home.
“We just didn’t break them down enough – we didn’t get the job done,” Wagner said.
“It definitely hurts, but it’s gonna’ take a feeling like this to really get us to turn it up. We’ve gotta’ take positives from this and realize that we’re better than that, and turn these into three points for us.”
CAR: Gilstrap; Knight, Scott (C), Tobin, Wagner; Shipalane; Hlavaty, Albadawi, Osaki (Nurse 58th), Anderson (Nyepon 79th); Novo (Bracalello, 30th)
ATL: Cochran; Black, Mensing, McKenzie, Miller; Okafor, Oppong (Guatrat 72nd), Reed, Porter; Bangura (Denissen 66th), Horth (Chavez 55th)
GOALS: CAR: Wagner (unassisted) – (82nd); ATL: Bangura (unassisted) – (40th), Okafor (Miller) – (62nd)
CAUTIONS: CAR: Anderson (68th), Nurse (84th); ATL: —
EJECTIONS: CAR: –; ATL: —