RailHawks extend unbeaten streak in front of record crowd

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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Peter Koutroumpis – editor@trianglesportsnet.com

CARY, N.C. – The Carolina RailHawks pushed their home unbeaten streak to 21 games with a 2-0 shutout victory over the Tampa Bay Rowdies in front of 7,856 in attendance at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.

The crowd which was the largest to attend a RailHawks regular-season NASL game in the Triangle, kept pouring in throughout the first half as Carolina generated ample opportunities to put the ball into the back of the net.

“It was a fun night and probably a great night to watch a very good game of soccer with two teams that wanted to play and pass,” RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke said.

“Some of our passing was very good. One-touch, two-touch is something we’ve been workin’ on obviously and the players are now startin’ to get a little better understanding of each other. I think we’re havin’ a lot of fun out there which is a big part of it as well.”

Carolina led 1-0 after the first half of play on a marker from Mike Grella in the 18th minute when he scored his second of the season on a cross over the top from Jun Marques Davidson.

“It was actually pretty simple,” Grella said of scoring the eventual game-winning goal.

“’We played a lot of good stuff throughout the center, but I think on that one, I just pulled away from the defender and Jun, who is one of the most fantastic player’s I’ve played with, he saw I pulled off and he saw (that) right away, he put it right in the spot where it needed to be.”

Grella had an opportunity to extend the lead and score another goal with a penalty shot attempt in the 54th minute, but showed some hesitation that allowed Tampa Bay keeper Cody Mizzell to get in the right position to make the stop.

“I guess I was a little rusty,” Grella said.

“I thought maybe he had watched some video of my last penalty, so I figured I’d pick another side – a side I don’t usually go to. I had something else in mind, but I just thought if it didn’t work, it probably was not going to be good so I just picked my corner and went there. It was not a good penalty. I was just a bit rusty. If I’m in that position again, I think I should be able to put it away. I don’t think it had anything to do with confidence, l think it was just a poor penalty.”

Former RailHawks striker Brian Shriver was substituted into the game during the 63rd minute, making his first appearance at WakeMed since playing for the RailHawks last season.

While Shriver and Tampa Bay worked to put the ball past goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, the current NASL Player of the Week, the Carolina defense supported him in thwarting each attempt.

“They have a lot of threats going forward, both from their midfield and their forwards,” Fitzgerald said.

“We knew that. We had done some work on what to expect with them and our back line just did a great job of limiting their chances and breaking up early. They did a great job of cutting out passes and they made it really easy for me.”

Carolina scored a beautifully orchestrated finishing goal in the 71st minute when Cesar Elizondo threaded a pass into the box to a streaking Ty Shipalane who put a cross-body heel-touch finish past a lunging Mizzell and extended the lead to 2-0.

“I guess they have more options than they had last year,” Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill said of Carolina’s offense.

“They recognize if the defense is square or ball-watching or coming forward and see the space behind. They’re very good at utilizing it. Colin’s got them using the timing of that going well.”

“It was fun to watch,” Clarke said of his team’s play.

“The crowd got into it – thank you very much – and I hope they come back. It’s a great place to have a good Saturday night. We’ll keep keep sellin’ it – just a really exciting team to watch.”