The RailHawks exhilarating run through the 100th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup finally came to a close on Wednesday night against MLS titans, Real Salt Lake. After a string of wins against fellow North Carolinians, Carolina Dynamo and big market MLS clubs, the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA, a 3-0 defeat in Sandy, Utah dropped the RailHawks out of the tournament in the Quarterfinal Round.
But before we look ahead to what is inarguably the biggest game of the season so far this weekend—as the RailHawks take on NASL rivals the Atlanta Silverbacks for what may prove to be the pivotal match in deciding the NASL Spring Season Champion—let’s first look back at the RailHawks’ six finest moments from this year’s U.S. Open Cup run.
6. The Win Over in-State Rivals (Full Recap)
The Carolina Dynamo may have been level at 1-1 by the end of the first half, but the scoreboard told little of the story on the pitch. The RailHawks imposed their style on the game with a heavy hand, passing and attacking with fluidity and finding the net with Tiyi Shipalane in the 26th minute. After outshooting the Dynamo 9-3 in the first half, Head Coach Colin Clarke infused the ability to turn those stats into goals in their halftime talk, beginning with an Austin King header from a free kick in the 53rd minute. Zack Schilawski followed up 22 minutes later with a shot that he slotted passed the keeper after Shipalane’s through-ball sent him through the Dynamo backline.
5. The Opening Goal (Video--Fast-forward to 00:27:35)
The Chivas USA match was especially tense, considering the MLS club eliminated the RailHawks from the last year’s U.S. Open Cup with a penalty kick in the dying minutes of the tightly contested game. But even against the full-strength side that Chivas fielded, it was the RailHawks who broke through first in the 13th minute, when a perfectly placed pass from Brian Shriver found Shipalane in the attacking third. Shipalane made easy work of the Chivas defender with his renowned pace, and touched the ball around the oncoming keeper. Patrons at WakeMed Soccer Park held their breath for what seemed like an eternity while Shipalane eyed an empty net, but screams of jubilation rang out with triumphant fists in the air after he passed the ball past the goal-line to put the RailHawks ahead.
4. The Record Breaking Crowd (Photo)
It was no surprise that a record setting crowd turned out this season to watch the rematch between the RailHawks and the Galaxy. Last year, the RailHawks showed the MLS giants the door in the U.S. Open Cup, after two late goals from Shipalane and Shriver.
This season, fans, players and media alike expected Head Coach Bruce Arena to take the fixture more seriously, perhaps sending over some of the stars that made up the Galaxy squad that catapulted the team to back-to-back MLS Cups. Instead, Arena himself didn’t bother showing up—but throngs of the RailHawks faithful fans did. And with the electric atmosphere that the 8,121 fans created, the boys in navy made easy work of their MLS opponents, led by…
3. The One-Two Punch (Video--Fast-forward to 1:32:00)
The match against the Galaxy was deadlocked at 0-0 for nearly an hour of play until Jordan Graye opened up LA’s defense with a pass leading Zack Schilawski down to the baseline. Schilawksi quickly eyed his options and sent a low cross into the box, Shriver dummied for Austin da Luz, and da Luz rocketed a shot off that the Galaxy keeper couldn’t keep out. The RailHawks were up 1-0, but they weren’t done yet.
Still reeling from the goal like a dazed boxer who’s seconds away from being dropped to the floor, the Galaxy were opened up yet again by Schilawski, who sent Shriver forward for a one-on-one that the forward is all too familiar with, and the One-Two Punch was complete. The reigning MLS champs were down for the count, and the RailHawks were triumphant for a second year in a row.
2. The Goal-line Stand (Video—Fast-forward to 2:05:00)
Late in the game and tied at 1-1, the RailHawks faced a barrage of shots from their Fourth Round opponents. Chivas USA had their sights set on yet another late-game winner at WakeMed Soccer Park, but Akira Fitzgerald and the RailHawks defense had other plans. In the waning minutes of regular time, two clearances on a corner kick opportunity for Chivas by Fitzgerald and Nick Millington kept the the score level, followed quickly by a goal-saving punch by Fitzgerald on a free kick, and the RailHawks escaped to extra time.
1. The Extra-Time Winners (Video—Fast forward to 2:16:00)
The goal-line stand was all the RailHawks needed to push on and claim a victory against Chivas USA in extra time. Just a minute and a half into the additional periods, Cesar Elizondo one-timed a pass from Shipalane to go ahead 2-1, and the rest of the game was all Carolina. Brian Ackley put the final dagger in Chivas USA seven minutes later with a header off a Floyd Franks corner, and the RailHawks had delivered the revenge they so desperately desired.
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