Carolina opens training camp today as they begin preparations for the annual Community Shield match on February 24th against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
For the RailHawks, the 2012 NASL season was a mixed-bag. Following their Regular Season triumph in 2011, the club was forced to rebuild much of the team as coach Martin Rennie and a whole host of players moved on to Major League Soccer. This year, things are different.
Colin Clarke, the longtime Puerto Rico Islanders manager, was given the difficult task of replacing Rennie at the helm of the club. Clarke recruited names like Gale Agbossoumonde, Ray Burse, and Ty Shipalane to replace the likes of Brad Rusin, Brad Knighton, and Jonny Steele, while keeping essential pieces like Nick Zimmerman and Kupono Low.
Heading into the 2013 season, the RailHawks will have 13 returning players, the only major loss being Agbossoumonde who signed with Toronto FC. Star attacker Nick Zimmerman headlines the list of returning players along with the likes of Ty Shipalane, Floyd Franks, Austin Da Luz, and Mr. RailHawk himself, Kupono Low, back for his seventh season with the club.
“Being able to bring back a core group of the players is an important piece for our plans in 2013.” said Clarke in a prior club statement.
Austen King returns following a great rookie season, along with fellow youngsters Nick Millington, Akira Fitzgerald, and Bréiner Ortiz. Brian Ackley, Zach Schilawski, Brian Shriver and Justin Willis will also be donning the orange kits of Carolina this coming season. 18 year-old Jake Beckford is another exciting prospect who could make his breakthrough in 2013.
With several returning players, the RailHawks will hope to avoid repeating their slow start to 2012. Last season, Clarke and the RailHawks started their season in an uncharacteristic poor fashion, going without a win in the first nine regular season games. Compare that to the start the club made a year prior under Rennie, with 11 wins from the first 13.
“With the new league format, having stability and consistency in the roster will give us the opportunity to get off to a fast start.”
A fast start is exactly what the RailHawks will need this year. Last campaign it took Carolina until the end of May to record their first win, a 6-0 victory against PSA Elite in the second round of the U.S. Open Cup. A week later, the RailHawks won just their second match of the season, defeating reigning MLS Cup Champions the L.A. Galaxy by a score of 2-1 in the next round of the cup, while still winless in NASL action.
It was a turning point in Carolina’s season. Though they exited the Open Cup in the next round, the RailHawks would taste defeat just four further times in the regular season, going 10-5-4 to an eventual fourth-place finish.
Carolina defeated the Strikers at home in the first round of the playoffs by a score of 3-1, and drew their Florida rivals, Tampa Bay Rowdies, in the semifinals. The Rowdies won the first leg 2-1 at WakeMed, before a wild 3-3 draw in St. Petersburg eliminated Carolina on aggregate, 5-4.
It was the second season in a row the Carolina RailHawks were eliminated by the eventual NASL Champions. In 2011, under the charge of Martin Rennie, the Regular Season Champions crashed out at home against the Minnesota Stars on a penalty shootout.
With the first place team earning the right to host the NASL Soccer Bowl, top spot is what the RailHawks will be shooting for come the Spring Championship season. NASL veteran Nick Addlery will add firepower to the RailHawks’ attack, though he has been the only new addition to sign with Carolina thus far.
- Steven Bernasconi
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