CARY, N.C. – The Carolina RailHawks needed to take the lead, keep it, and win the game.
Carolina forward Nacho Novo ensured that it happened that way.
The Spaniard finished with two goals and an assist – arguably one of his best outings wearing a Carolina jersey to date – and led Carolina to a 3-2 win over the San Antonio Scorpions in front of 4,180 in attendance at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.
“Delighted – a great result,” RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke said.
“I thought we deserved the win.”
The RailHawks (2-1-1, 5-6-3) came into the game against the defending NASL champion Scorpions (1-1-2, 4-4-5) sitting in third place in both the NASL Fall and Combined standings.
Recent outings had shown a lack of consistency in completing victories and suffering frustration in earning a draw or loss that kept them from leading the league table.
A 2-1 loss to the Indy Eleven last week came about as the result of giving up a 1-0 lead.
A 1-1 draw at home with Fort Lauderdale the week before that was another example of not being able to finish their effort.
Carolina needed to take the advantage and keep it – and did.
“First half, it was pretty end-to-end, we started pretty well, scored a couple of good goals,” Clarke continued.
“A little disappointed that we didn’t do a bit more from there – gave up a bad goal – just a mental error in concentration, but we came out in the second half and I thought we were pretty good.”
Neil Hlavaty added his fourth goal of the season to go along with Novo’s markers for the Railhawks while Cesar Elizondo and Rafael Castillo scored for San Antonio.
It was a game that Carolina was not going to take easily considering it played without co-leading goal scorer Ty Shipalane, out with an ankle injury, and defender Futty Danso, who was still back home due to a death in the family.
With consistent and steady ball possession and movement from the opening kickoff, the RailHawks claimed the game’s first lead in the 22nd minute.
Hlavaty redirected the ball with a one-touch volley past Scorpions keeper Daryl Sattler and gave Carolina the 1-0 lead following a well-placed cross into the box – from left to right – courtesy of Novo.
“I do the best I can to try to be clever,” Novo said in setting up the pass.
“The defender is always going to go for the ball, and I just try to use my body to make them commit a mistake or try to keep the ball. I know the defender was expecting me to go this way (right), but I just made a move (left) inside. Then I saw Neil with the diagonal run and I tried to put the ball towards him. His finish was fantastic.”
Maintaining the momentum, the RailHawks kept the pressure up with another play in the Scorpions’ goal crease.
Two minutes later, Novo put the ball into the net after his initial shot was saved by Sattler.
The keeper offered up a big rebound which Novo emphatically booted into the top right corner of the goal.
Carolina goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald played a good positional game throughout and snagged many pass attempts and shots in his crease area to keep San Antonio working extra hard to beat him.
Scorpions head coach Alen Marcina noted that his team was unable to finish plays which he thought should have translated into goals.
“I thought a good portion of the game we played some good soccer,” Marcina said.
“We had a few mental lapses to be fair. The second goal should never have happened – the PK – two individual errors and we got punished for them.”
San Antonio pulled to within one when a well-placed header into the top left corner of the goal in the 35th minute beat Fitzgerald.
It was former teammate Elizondo who cut the Carolina lead to 2-1.
Castillo’s free kick from the left touch line found the spot in the goal crease where Elizondo put the ball out of reach as Fitzgerald couldn’t get a grasp on the ball, diving high and into the goal to no avail.
Carolina led 2-1 at halftime.
San Antonio earned the best opportunity to score early in the second half, but Fitzgerald corralled the ball quickly at the top of the box in the 51st minute.
“We created the better chances,” Marcina said.
“You gotta put them away. We’ve been creating chances, but guys gotta do a better job of putting them in the back of the net.”
Carolina also had its chances to put the game further out of reach as well, but Austin Da Luz missed high and soon after, a free kick just outside the top of the box couldn’t make it through a dense and sizeable Scorpions wall.
Novo scored the eventual winning goal in the 67th minute.
He put away a penalty kick low to the left corner and gave the RailHawks a two-goal lead, and the eventual win.
The opportunity came about after Novo was knocked down from behind in the penalty area by Elizondo.
However, Carolina didn’t make it easy for itself, as not long after, Carolina’s Kupono Low brought Giuseppe Gentile down in the box in 74th minute.
The resultant successful penalty kick conversion from Castillo a minute later allowed San Antonio to once again pull within a goal.
The Scorpions had ample opportunities to tie, including a threatening free kick from 25 yards out in extra time.
However, Fitzgerald made a diving save on Castillo’s attempt that preserved the win for Carolina.
“It worked out – we win this game – a very important three points,” Novo said.
“We can score more goals and keep a clean sheet – that’s the most important thing for us (to do). We are able to play some good football. Hopefully everything is coming around. Now we just need to think about the next game and prepare for that.”
CAR: Fitzgerald; Knight, Scott, Tobin, Low; Hlavaty, Thompson, da Luz (Wagner, 78th); Bracalello (Anderson, 60th), Novo (Nurse, 90th), Albadawi
SAS: Sattler; Bokar (Soto, 45th), Attakora, Rusin, Deroux; Gibson, Elizondo (Hassli, 82nd) Nane, Castillo, Forbes; Gentile
GOALS: CAR: Hlavaty, 22nd (Novo), Novo, 24th (Unassisted), Novo 67th (PK); SAS: Elizondo, 35th (Castillo), Castillo 75th (PK)
CAUTIONS: CAR: Low (67th), da Luz (78th); SAS: Bokar (6th), Elizondo (26th), Attakora (63rd)
EJECTIONS: CAR: –; SAS: —