RailHawks draw 1-1 with Strikers, playoff hopes still alive

Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
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CARY, N.C. – The Carolina RailHawks ended up with a 1-1 draw with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.

With only three games left in the North American Soccer League (NASL) Fall Season and a spot in The Championship final four on the line, the RailHawks needed to earn a win after falling 3-0 to FC Edmonton last weekend.

Combined with a 2-2 tie that Fort Lauderdale earned against the Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina’s chances of contending for the fourth and final spot in the NASL Combined Standings remained alive.

Leading up to the game, RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke said, “Everything that happened up to now is history.”

“Now we need to refocus our energy on the last three games of the regular season and The Championship games.”

Trailing the Strikers by two points and with Edmonton on their heels, two points further back, the RailHawks were in a position to control their destiny for the remainder of the season.

Facing a Strikers side that was undefeated in four games, the RailHawks worked hard to gain possession early on to take an early lead.

However, not being aggressive enough during the opening half kept them from gaining the advantage they needed.

“Even though Fort Lauderdale came here to sit and make it difficult for us, try to hit us on a break and pick off a pass and try to counter, when we did get into good position and get the ball in between their line, between their back four and their midfield four, we didn’t make good enough decisions,” Clark said.

“We weren’t good enough with it to hurt them.”

Still scoreless at halftime, Carolina kept up its offensive pressure but still couldn’t finish on ideal scoring opportunities, including a missed shot on an on open goal by Ty Shipalane.

Using the momentum from the RailHawks midfielder’s miss, Fort Lauderdale eventually worked the ball up the field and a strike from the top of the box in the 67th minute beat goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald just inside the left post as Mark Anderson gave the Strikers a 1-0 lead.

Playing catch-up, Carolina’s Nacho Novo tied the game 1-1 with an impressive heel kick in the 82nd minute that beat Fort Lauderdale keeper Kamil Contofalsky after Shipalane threaded the ball through a crowded box to him.

Pressing even more, what seemed like another clear opportunity for Shipalane to put Carolina ahead was denied.

Even after he was obstructed and taken down in the box, no penalty kick was assessed on the play and both teams eventually ended the game with a draw, and with Fort Lauderdale still two points ahead of Carolina in the league table.

“Overall, disappointed,” Clarke concluded.

“Before this match started, we had it in our control to succeed in what our goal was at the start of the season – to get to the playoffs and win a championship. It’s not over, but it’s out of our control which is the disappointing part.”

Though Carolina remains in contention for a playoff spot, the pressure to win increases even more for the squad and must be coupled with a combination of losses for Fort Lauderdale and Edmonton accordingly.

The RailHawks will now prep for their final two games of the season, on the road against Atlanta this coming Saturday, and at home against playoff top-seed Minnesota United on Nov. 1.

While Clarke and his team were disappointed with the result, an experienced footballer like Novo offered a glimpse into the mindset he expects the team to play with in light of the situation.

“The important thing is, that’s in the past now,” Novo said.

“We have a massive game in Atlanta which is the most important game right now. Nothing is finished yet – still lots of hard games to come. Not for us only, but for everyone. We need to believe. One thing I know is everyone has belief – a great group of players in there. That’s why we need to concentrate and go back Monday and work really hard and try to go to Atlanta and get three points. Funny things happen with football all the time. I’ve been involved in so many (games). You need to keep working until the last minute. If you work hard, you never know what will happen.”