CARY, N.C. – A 1-0 win over the Jacksonville Armada on Saturday vaulted the Carolina RailHawks into fifth place in the North American Soccer League (NASL) Combined standings.
With eleven matches remaining in their Fall season schedule, the RailHawks possess the potential to push for a playoff spot – even sitting 12 points behind current leaders, the New York Cosmos.
Potential, yes – a guaranteed spot – no.
With the addition of Omar Bravo back in July, Carolina bolstered its goal-scoring talent to complement another recent addition Matt Fondy, currently the team’s leading scorer, as well established offensive specialists in Brian Shriver and Ty Shipalane.
Shipalane scored the game-winner over the weekend at home and put himself in a position to sit tied for fourth in team scoring along with assist-leader Nazmi Albadawi and Austen Da Luz.
Fondy sits with six markers, followed by Shriver (5), Bravo (4), and Shipalane, Albadawi, and Da Luz – all with three apiece.
The combination of these six players provides the depth in the RailHawks’ offense at a level it hasn’t possessed in recent seasons.
There is a caveat to this though.
Scoring nine goals during the team’s recent five-game span looks impressive, but a stunning lopsided 6-1 road loss to the Cosmos following a 3-2 win over the Indy Eleven, showed the vulnerability of porous defensive play that allowed 12 goals as well.
Sitting with its recent 2-2-1 record, Carolina must hit a sharper, upward trend to push and earn the final combined playoff spot.
To do anything less, will fall well below the mark with the talent this team possesses.
What will make the difference is the attitude it plays with at both ends of the pitch.
Following the win over Indy, head coach Colin Clarke referred to his squad as playing with heart and maintaining a strong belief system in winning.
Just as quickly, for one game, they faltered in doing so.
However, Carolina has shown a different vibe in its pace of play than earlier this season.
Scoring at least two goals a game is needed, but giving up as many or more to only earn draws or suffer inexplicable losses will not do the job.
Complete wins, with effective defensive support will do it.
As Clarke said, “it’s right there – it’s right on the cusp.”
Yes, it is.