Originally published at indyweek.com, where Neil Morris covers the RailHawks.
Fans gathering in advance of the Carolina RailHawks’ match against Chivas USA in the fourth round match of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup did so at the appointed hour when the transit of Venus was visible in the eastern United States. The RailHawks fortunes in the Open Cup, once considered the equivalent of a small dot against a celestial backdrop, changed a week ago when Carolina ousted—ironically—the Galaxy.
However, it was a mythical stargazer that held more in common with Carolina as they hosted their second Major League Soccer side in successive weeks before 7,117 fans at WakeMed Soccer Park. Like Icarus, the higher the ‘Hawks flew in the annual Cup competition, the more precipitous their eventual fall. Still, it was a fun ride while it lasted, and the RailHawks demonstrated Tuesday evening that not only did they belong on the same pitch with their first-division foes, but they generated ample opportunities to snag a victory.
But by game’s end, Carolina had to contain an opposing front line that included both Juan Agudelo and Juan Pablo Ángel, not coincidentally the two goalscorers for Chivas USA in their 2-1 win over the RailHawks.
Unlike the LA Galaxy match a week ago, the RailHawks came out a confident side from the opening whistle. But also unlike last week’s game, Chivas USA sent out a starting XI of regular first-teamers, including Agudelo, Alejandro Moreno and Laurent Courtois.
After the teams exchanged early chances, Chivas USA was first on the scoreboard in the 31st minute. A cross from Courtois found Agudelo in front of goal, and the 19-year-old U.S. international deflected a textbook angled header inside the right post past RailHawks goalkeeper Ray Burse for the early lead.
Despite competing gamely, Carolina looked a step slow in the opening stanza, particularly in trying to crack Chivas’ defense. However, an attacking RailHawks team took the pitch after halftime. In the 62nd minute, a through ball was played ahead to an onsides Breiner Ortiz, who opted to attempt a close-range cross to Brian Shriver instead of pulling the trigger himself. In the 65th, an Austin Da Luz corner found the head of Amir Lowery, but the ball deflected high and just wide right. And in the 71st, a header by Zack Schilawski rattled the crossbar.
Ty Shipalane, the second half hero of Carolina’s last two wins over the Galaxy and Puerto Rico Islanders, entered the match to much fanfare in the 68th minute. But it was two other substitutions—one for each team—that would guide the game’s ultimate outcome.
In the 79th minute, RailHawks right back Cory Elenio played the ball over to a driving Kupono Low near the top of the box. Low took a touch and then went down just inside the penalty area. As everyone from players to partisans paused to see whether the referee might point to the spot, midfielder Mike Palacio—who had just entered the game a minute earlier—pounced on the loose ball and one-touched it past Chivas keeper Tim Melia for the equalizer.
“The ball was switched, and I know [Low] being a leftie I saw him open his body towards the inside, so I knew it was going to hit a little hard,” Palacio recalled. “[The ball] was right on my left foot, so I knew I was going to one-time it.”
As the game wore on, its similarities to the Galaxy clash became uncanny. In both matches, the MLS clubs took 1-0 leads into halftime, the RailHawks didn’t get their first shot on target until early in the second half and Carolina’s equalizers came from second-half subs. With Carolina fully on the attack, it seemed inevitable that they would pull out another improbable upset.
As three minutes of stoppage time eventually approached, extra time seemed inevitable. In the 90th minute, Burse made two spectacular saves off short-range sure shots from Agudelo and Ángel, who entered the game in the 69th minute. A subsequent Chivas corner kick cleared towards midfield found Schilawski, who gathered the ball and turned to begin a run upfield. However, a Chivas defender extended his arm into the Carolina striker, who went to ground. The official’s whistle remained silent, and Chivas countered by sending the ball into the box to Ángel. As he maneuvered for the shot, center back Gale Agbossoumonde attempted a tackle to dispossess the striker. As Agbossoumonde slid by, his left arm caught the sphere and the referee issued a handball penalty.
As boos rained down from the home supporters, Ángel calmly deposited the PK into the bottom left corner of the goal to account for the winning margin.
RailHawks manager Colin Clarke took no issue with the handball penalty.
“From where I could see there’s no need to go to ground and make that challenge,” Clarke said. “You stand up and be a defender and let your keeper make a save. You just make sure [the attacker] doesn’t get turned. But, [Gale’s] a young kid still learning. I thought he had a great night tonight. It’s just a shame at the end what happened.”
However, Clarke was shy about his feelings over the non-call on Schilawski and the general tenor of the officiating.
“I thought we should have had a free kick at the halfway line,” Clarke groused. “Everybody else saw it, but the referee was garbage tonight. I thought he gave us nothing. Of the 50-50 decisions, he looked after them, and I think that cost us. A minute from the end, the ball’s out to our player. We go the other way, we’re in with a great chance.”
For his part, Schilawski was a bit more circumspect.
“I tried to draw one; thought it could have been called,” he said. “Certainly, I feel I have to hold that ball up, even foul them or do something so it’s not coming back down our throats.”
Moreno, who bodied up Carolina’s midfielders all game and disrupted their rhythm, saw a tale of two halves.
“In the first half we were able to control the pace of the game,” said the Chivas USA captain. “And then for a good part of the second half they were better than us. They had the crowd behind them and were obviously leaving everything out on the field. They were sending a lot of people forward and were able to get a goal on one of those plays. But, we were able to do enough to get out of here with a result.”
Ultimately, the difference was the divergent ability of each team to get the ball at the feet of their playmakers. Agudelo and Ángel took seven of Chivas USA’s 11 shots. Courtois, who played a terrific game, accounted for three more attempts.
On the other side, Brian Shriver and Nick Zimmerman, Carolina’s leading scorers, combined for just two shots, neither on goal. And unlike Bruce Arena last week, Chivas USA manager Robin Fraser was clearly familiar with Shipalane, who was blanketed and bottled up by one or two Chivas defenders throughout his 22 minutes of play.
Chivas USA now advances to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup on June 26 and will host surprise D3 side the Charlotte Eagles, who defeated the San Antonio Scorpions Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the RailHawks must swallow not only the bitter pill of losing, but also the fact that they would have hosted the Eagles had they eked out a win over Chivas USA. Carolina returns to action this Saturday at WakeMed Park against the NASL-leading Minnesota Stars FC, who were also eliminated from the Open Cup Tuesday night.
“We weren’t doing so well in the league even though we knew what we were capable of,” said Palacio. “I think the Open Cup gave us extra confidence so we can carry on to the league.”
CAR: GK Burse, D Elenio, D Agbossoumonde, D King, D Low (c), M Zimmerman (Palacio, 78), M Lowery, M Ortiz (Shipalane, 68), M Da Luz, F Schilawski (Ackley, 90), F Shriver
CHV: GK Melia, D Califf, D McKenzie, D Riley, D Gordon, M Vagenas, M Gavin (Smith, 83), M Courtois (Zemanski, 64), M Moreno, F Correa (Angel, 70), F Agudelo
CAR: Palacio (Unassisted), 79;
CHV: Agudelo (Courtois), 31; Angel (Unassisted), 90
CAR: Low, 35; Ortiz, 48; Lowery, 55;
CHV: Gavin, 37; Riley, 74; Smith, 90
CAR: 12 (4 SO)
CHV: 11 (6 SO)
Weather: Breezy and partly cloudy, 71