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Carolina Defeats Austin in Friday Night Showdown

The Carolina RailHawks made a strong statement Friday night, defeating the Austin Aztex 3-1 before 2,728 partisan RailHawk fans at WakeMed Soccer Park.  The win put the heat on the Vancouver Whitecaps for tomorrow’s night clash with Portland, as Vancouver will have to beat the Timbers by three goals to win back the NASL Conference title that they’ve held almost all season long until the RailHawks began their roll. 

As would be befitting of a match between USSF D2’s two best offenses, with much on the line for both teams, this was an exciting contest.  There was no score at the half hour mark of the game, despite chances by the RailHawks’ Tom Heinemann on a Kupono Low cross and an Aztex’ opportunity by Maxwell Griffin, who shot wide after a great run and cross  by defender Kevin Sakuda.  Austin’s Jamie Watson lined up a shot shortly after a half hour elapsed, but his blast sailed high.                   

Tom Heinemann

The breakthrough came, oddly enough, on an Austin own goal.  Defender Kieron Bernard skied high to defend a free kick, but the ball glanced off the top of his head and backward past Miguel Gallardo to give Carolina a 1-0 lead.  But that lead was short-lived, as late in the first half Maxwell Griffin knotted the score.  Carolina was unable to clear a Jamie Watson corner kick, and the ball fell to an Aztex attacker who crossed diagonally across the box to an open Griffin, who slotted past Eric Reed for his tenth score of the year. 

Coming out tied up after intermission, both teams gunned for the lead, but as the minutes ticked away Carolina was creating more pressure on goal.  Near the hour mark, the RailHawks’ Gregory Richardson was sprung open and shot low to the far post, but Gallardo athletically deflected the shot to safety.  RailHawks’ midfielder Daniel Paladini had a chance going down the left flank, but he didn’t get everything into his shot and it rolled to Gallardo for an easy save.  Gallardo stoned Heinemann later on a one on one chance, and near the 75th minute mark deflected an Etienne Barbara shot that somehow went past two Carolina attackers near goal as the game remained tied.

The Aztex were unlucky not to score soon afterwards.  Eric Reed punched away a shot that landed right at the feet of the Aztex’ Lance Watson.  Watson cranked up and let go a low shot that went through the maze of legs, ricocheted a bit, but ended up going wide of the net.  That was Austin’s final good chance, as Heinemann swiveled on a ball just past midfield on the right and sent a through ball to Matt Watson.  Watson moved steadily towards goal before crossing to Barbara,  who slotted calmly to give Carolina a 2-1 lead with only minutes left in the match.  Barbara’s eighth goal of the season is now a Carolina individual scoring record.

Any opportunity that the Aztex had to come up with a late equalizer was nullified by Heinemann.  As payback for all his physical work throughout the match, the lanky forward knocked a low shot towards goal that Gallardo got down to save, but muffed, with the ball rolling into the Aztex’ net.  Heinemann’s goal was his fourth in six games since joining the RailHawks late in the season, and sealed the win that saw the RailHawks move into sole possession of first place in the NASL Conference, three points ahead of Vancouver pending the outcome of the Vancouver-Portland match Saturday night.

It was a tough loss for Austin, who played without injured forward Eddie Johnson.  Johnson’s 14 goals are second only to Portland Ryan Pore’s 15 in the league, and his sound, aggressive play has been a hallmark of Austin’s strong attack all season.  Austin did welcome the return from injury of midfielder Lawrence Olum, who went the full 90 and partnered very effectively with Yordany Alvarez.  Austin’s attack was sparkling at times, but Carolina’s determination and physicality won the night.  Austin Coach Adrian Heath had to coach with an eye towards the team’s regular season finale in Montreal Sunday afternoon, and their playoff appearance in the middle of next week.  And although Gallardo let in an easy late goal by Heinemann, he kept Austin in the game with his athletic saves.  Gallardo isn’t the most orthodox goalkeeper, but the quickness and courage he displayed throughout the contest was admirable.

Also admirable was the RailHawks effort.  Playing their season finale in front of a home crowd, they played smart, physical soccer throughout the match.  Only the gifted goal to Maxwell Griffin that was caused by a failed clearance kept Eric Reed from a clean sheet, as he was a strong presence beetween the posts.  Coach Martin Rennie’s introduction of Etienne Barbara into the game around the 73rd minute mark, replacing an effective Greogory Richardson, seemed questionable at first, but the Maltese Magician verified Rennie’s good judgment soon afterwards with his game-winning goal. 

Forward Tom Heinemann was dangerous throughout the evening.  Heinemann has been a revelation, although not a surprise to those who were aware of his fine play with the Charleston Battery this season.  His motor continues to run despite the bumps he receives and dishes out, and his vision and skills make him a constant threat.  His acquisition from the Battery a month ago was an outstanding late season signing by Rennie, and certainly a factor in Carolina’s rise to the NASL Conference top spot. 

The season’s final weekend is proving to be well-worthy of attention.  Fans in Carolina will be nervously watching Vancouver’s Pacific Northwest derby with the hot Portland Timbers, while Austin fans will be rooting for AC St. Louis to take down the visiting Rochester Rhinos.  Austin and Montreal finish the league’s regular season in their Sunday afternoon tilt, and what an entertaining season it’s been.  The playoffs begin Tuesday and Wednesday.

Carolina Starting Lineup:  Reed, Woolard, Rusin, McKenney, Low, Watson, Paladini, Gardner, Davidson, Richardson, Heinemann  Subs Used: Barbara, Franks, Lowery

Austin Starting Lineup:  Gallardo, Sakuda, Needham, L.Griffin, Bernard, L.Watson, Olum, Fuller, Alvarez, J. Watson, M. Griffin  Subs Used:  Patterson, Yoshitake, Hemming, Allen

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3 Responses

  1. The on road losses for the Aztex are painful. A vacation would be in order but the one more game then the playoffs begin. The other teams will have a day of rest over the Aztex. This could be ugly.

  2. Yeah I was just thinking while watching the game that the schedule isn’t doing the Aztex any favors as the season ends. A road game on Friday night in Florida, another road game in Montreal Sunday afternoon, and then the playoffs starting midweek? Rough stuff.

    Personally, I have really enjoyed the Aztex’ turnaround and their style of play in 2010. But they seem to have lost a bit of their spark the last weeks, and I’m hoping that between that and the schedule that they are ok for the playoffs. I’m wondering how much they miss Yohance Marshall, and of course, hope that EJ is healthy for the playoffs.

  3. […] Carolina Defeats Austin in Friday Night Showdown — NASL Fanatic It was a tough loss for Austin, who played without injured forward Eddie Johnson. Johnson’s 14 goals are second only to Portland Ryan Pore’s 15 in the league, and his sound, aggressive play has been a hallmark of Austin’s strong attack all season. Austin did welcome the return from injury of midfielder Lawrence Olum, who went the full 90 and partnered very effectively with Yordany Alvarez. Austin’s attack was sparkling at times, but Carolina’s determination and physicality won the night. Austin Coach Adrian Heath had to coach with an eye towards the team’s regular season finale in Montreal Sunday afternoon, and their playoff appearance in the middle of next week. And although Gallardo let in an easy late goal by Heinemann, he kept Austin in the game with his athletic saves. Gallardo isn’t the most orthodox goalkeeper, but the quickness and courage he displayed throughout the contest was admirable. […]

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