Carolina RailHawks begin season unbeaten at home

Let 'em know
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

Peter Koutroumpis –

CARY, N.C. – The Carolina RailHawks will host the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in their home-opener and as part of this week’s North American Soccer League (NASL) ‘Match of the Week’ at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.

The match will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and will provide soccer fans around the world a glimpse into week two of the 2014 North American Soccer League season that includes the 6th Annual Hilton Garden Inn – Durham Southpoint Community Shield Match to be contested between the two squads.

Currently sitting just two points out of first-place, the RailHawks will put their 16-game unbeaten streak (combined NASL and U.S. Open Cup matches) on their home pitch on the line against the Strikers, a team which they hold a 5-0-2 record against at home.

“First of all, this will be a real challenge for us,” Strikers coach Günter Kronsteiner said on the match-up against the RailHawks.

“Carolina hasn’t lost a game at home in a long time. To have such a long streak is amazing; they have all my respect. But we’re in good shape and we keep getting better and better. This game will be a good measure of where we are at this point.”

In preparation to host Fort Lauderdale, the RailHawks were busy promoting the game and their season to fans and followers during festivities that took place earlier in the week.

The team held separate Fan Forum and Media Roundtable events on Wednesday and Thursday as NASL commissioner Bill Peterson, president of Traffic Sports USA Aaron Davidson, along with RailHawks team president Curt Johnson and RailHawks head coach, Colin Clarke presented their perspective on the present state of the game, the league and the team.

In 2013, the RailHawks, led by Clarke, recorded the most points over the NASL’s split-season format and had a memorable run to the quarterfinal round of the 100th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup that included victories over the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA of Major League Soccer (MLS).

The RailHawks will showcase local talent once again along with newcomers from other teams.

A few players who fit the home-grown description include Enzo Martinez, Zack Schilawski, Akira Fitzgerald.

Last year, Martinez, a former UNC Men’s Soccer standout, was on loan with the RailHawks from MLS club Real Salt Lake.

Martinez assisted UNC to three straight NCAA College Cups, and last year scored 3 goals for the RailHawks in just 15 appearances.

Schilawski and Fitzgerald were members of the Wake Forest University Men’s Soccer Team which won the 2007 National Championship, with Schilawski scoring a the final penalty in the shootout that gave the Demon Deacons the championship.

Additionally, this year the RailHawks have three longtime veterans returning in Nick Zimmerman, Kupono Low, and Tiyi Shipalane.

Zimmerman was a mainstay in the 2012 RailHawks team leading scoring with 16 goals, but did not play in 2013 after suffering an injury, but returns to the field this season looking to make a big impact.

Low returns for his eighth season and is the only player to have played for the inaugural RailHawks team in 2007 and has earned the distinction “Mr. RailHawk” from the fans having made 193 appearances.

Shipalane is considered by many to be the most exciting player in American soccer and has been with the RailHawks since 2010.

He became a fan favorite by scoring once and assisting a second goal that allowed the RailHawks to defeat the defending MLS Champion LA Galaxy.

His speed and attacking mindset add excitement to every games he is a part of.

Finally, Jun Marques Davidson returns to the team following two years with the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS.

During his time in the MLS, Marques Davidson was one of the most accurate passers in the league completing over 85% of passes.

Davidson also has over 100 appearances in the J-League, Japan’s premier division of professional soccer to his playing experience credit.

Coming into this season, Clarke has made adjustments to the roster with the purpose of winning a league championship.

“To create a team capable of winning the NASL,” Clarke said of what his goal was from the opening kickoff to the season.

“That’s the obvious answer, with hopefully better pieces. I thought defensively last year we were good. I didn’t think we were great. I’ve got a couple of settled defenders in this year with better communication skills. First and foremost, I like to defend and I enjoy defending. Leadership obviously there with Connor Tobing from Minnesota, Daniel Scott from Tampa, and Jun Marques Davidson back – another experienced player who’s played at the highest level. So, we’ve signed some experienced pros who know what it’s all about and some young and exciting talent as well.”