Goalkeepers make difference as RailHawks, Armada play to scoreless draw

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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CARY, N.C. – It was a restart to the North American Soccer League (NASL) Spring season that took over an hour longer to get started than originally scheduled.

After the uneventful lightning delay, the Carolina RailHawks concluded the first half of their season at home with a 0-0 scoreless draw, against the last-place Jacksonville Armada FC in front of 5,786 in attendance at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.

Following up on a 5-0 extra-time shutout of the Charlotte independence in 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play on Wednesday, the RailHawks looked to continue their offensive surge from the previous match.

“We were off to a great start (to the season) and the last four games haven’t worked out how we had wanted them to which is disappointing,” RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke said prior to kickoff.

“It’s important that we finish the Spring Season off on a positive, and that means a result at home in front of our fans, and then going on the road to get three points in Indiana.”

With a draw and three losses coming into the match Carolina placed significant attacks and strikes towards the goal, but couldn’t connect as both teams remained scoreless by halftime.

Also coming off an extra-time Open Cup win, Jacksonville sought to continue to accrue points in league play to follow up a previous draw.

They did that according to Armada head coach Tony Meola.

“I thought it was a pretty entertaining game for a nil-nil game – chances at both ends,” Meola said.

“Certainly not an easy place to get a shutout – first one of the year. For us it’s about gathering points and trying to build some momentum.”

On the other sideline, the focus was on earning three points to stay in contention for the Spring championship.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen for Carolina.

While outchancing the Armada by a 6-3 margin in the first half, the RailHawks couldn’t place any shots on goal while the Armada kept goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald busy as he made four saves to keep the game even.

He finished with six.

To start the second half, Carolina worked to apply pressure inside the box, but goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo was equally up to the task.

He finished with two saves.

Carolina’s Billy Schuler came close to breaking the deadlock in the 55th minute when his individual effort, a step right and then left came before bending the ball towards the top-left corner that missed and was not far off the mark.

Another attack sequence and a resultant corner still didn’t result in the ball touching the net three minutes later.

Jacksonville countered at the other end to no avail as the match headed into the final 30 minutes of regulation time.

A well-placed low ball from Austin da Luz, initiated from just outside the top-center of the box made it through before Gallardo’s stretched dive right got a hold of it.

The score remained 0-0 through 73 minutes as both teams made substitutions to bring in fresh legs and energy in attempts to earn the advantage.

Each side continued to mount attacks with Carolina coming closest to scoring as Schuler’s six-yard boot looked to be headed in before Gallardo made another diving stop.

Even with four minutes of added time, it was both goalkeepers that helped their teams earn a well-fought draw.

“First half, keeper (Fitzgerald) was outstanding,” Meola said.

“From our standpoint, we’re hopin’ one gets deflected, but he was on his toes. Miguel was big for us in the second half. We needed it. I haven’t watched a game here that the other team comes out with results when the other goalkeeper hasn’t had to make plays, and Miguel did that tonight.”

“Disappointed,” is how RailHawks head coach described the match for his team.

“We didn’t get the result. I thought we played well – played great, created chances, lots of chances, lots of opportunities. Failed, for me, make their keeper make enough saves. You gotta hit the target.”–