Shots: 31 to 6. Corner kicks: 11 to 4. Time of possession: seemingly infinity to nil.
In virtually every statistical category, the LA Galaxy held sway over the Carolina RailHawks during their Fifth Round match in the US Open Cup. Except one.
Goals: 1-0 RailHawks.
It was the third consecutive year the RailHawks have hosted and now dispatched the Galaxy from the tournament. Unlike the previous two tournaments, this year was supposed to be different.
First, Galaxy manager Bruce Arena actually made the trip to Cary (unlike in 2013). The game didn’t take place in the nearly 10,000 seat WakeMed Soccer Stadium, but instead an adjacent Koka Booth Stadium (aka Field 2) lined with lawn and temporary bleacher seating with a maximum capacity of 3,000.
Moreover, unlike the roster of reservists the Galaxy have previously run out against the RailHawks, this year the Galaxy were playing for keeps.
“e’re sick of losing to Carolina and we’re sick of going out of the Open Cup early,” said LA’s Landon Donovan in the run-up to the match.
The Galaxy fielded a formidable, full-strength lineup that included Robbie Keane, Juninho, Robbie Rogers, AJ DeLaGarza, and Gyasi Zardes. And, the player with the most goals in both U.S. national and Major League Soccer history, Donovan entered the game in the 64th minute.
On the other side, the RailHawks were fielding a bit of a patchwork 11 that was missing starting striker Mike Grella and center back Toni Stahl. Both players’ Carolina contracts expired after the Chivas USA Open Cup win on June 14, and both players are absent while the team attempts to negotiate extensions for the NASL fall season.
With starting goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald still injured, Scott Goodwin got his second straight start. Against Chivas USA, all Goodwin did was make 11 saves in 120 minutes of regulation and overtime, then saved three kicks from the penalty mark to secure the RailHawks’ victory.
For those asking whether Goodwin could duplicate that stellar performance, the former Tar Heel standout answered with a clean sheet and eight saves against the formidable Galaxy attack.
It was a hot and humid start on the sunbathed Field 2, still in the mid 80s at the 7 p.m. kickoff.
It was the Galaxy putting the heat on the RailHawks in the early going. The Galaxy dominated possession against a tentative Carolina squad, and the RailHawks’ usually potent offensive met its match against a big and fast Galaxy back line. LA snuffed out virtually every through ball and attempted attack from wingers Ty Shipalane and Cesar Elizondo.
While the Galaxy sent one sortie after another into their attacking third, they were either snuffed out by Goodwin or cleared out by a RailHawks’ back line that barely made a misstep or ill-timed tackle the entire match. Quite simply, Connor Tobin, Daniel Scott, Austen King, and Kupono Low were sublime in the back; RailHawks manager Colin Clarke said it was one of the best games he’s ever seen the 35-year-old Low play.
The RailHawks were fortunate to hold the Galaxy scoreless in the first half. That second lease on the game appeared to galvanize Carolina’s resolve in the second stanza.
While LA continued to dominate the run of play, Carolina began to find seams to attack after substituting off Shipalane and Elizondo, heroes of past Open Cup wins over the Galaxy and Chivas USA. With the Galaxy crowding the wings all match, the insertion of substitutes Daniel Jackson and Nick Zimmerman — making his first official RailHawks appearance since 2012 — stretched the field and gave Carolina more punch through the center of the field.
In the 48th minute, Leonardo got a head on a LA corner kick, but his shot sailed wide and high. In the 50th minute, Kofi Opare got his own point-blank header in the goalmouth, but Goodwin made a spectacular save.
In the 83rd minute, Donovan found the ball at his feet in the box and delivered a short range poke that Goodwin somehow managed to swat away from danger.
In a game full of close calls, Goodwin said that was the closest.
“I didn’t really think about it until five or ten minutes later,” he said. “I was like, ‘I think that was Donovan.’ You’re watching the ball and scrambling around, and you have no time to think about it during the game. It’s just onto the next play.”
In the 90th minute, Keane got free in the box and found himself in a 1-v-1 with Goodwin. But the Carolina keeper won that battle, too.
Just when it appeared the RailHawks would be fortunate to hold on for overtime, Carolina nearly snagged a shock winner on the final play of regulation. Finding space along the right flank, Jackson made an angled drive toward the south goal and cut loose a blast that was parried away by Galaxy goalkeeper Jamie Penedo.
In the 105th minute, the RailHawks improbably broke the scoreless deadlock. A one-two exchange between Jackson and Zimmerman ended with Zimmerman playing a nifty through ball behind Leonardo to a streaking, onside Jackson. With Keane and Donovan watching helplessly, Jackson drove to goal and powered his shot near post past Penedo for the 1-0 lead.
“On that possession, Nazmi had a broke up play and he played it to me,” Jackson said. “I brought in and played a one-touch with Zimmerman. I rolled around and played a ball through.”
From there, it was up to Jackson to notch his first RailHawks goal.
“It was a little similar to the I had before overtime,” he said. “I mishit the previous one, but this time I just thought I’d blast it and see where it goes. It was near post and it was good rip.”
From there, it was time for the RailHawks to intentionally park the bus. In the 114th, a seeing-eye header from Keane bounded wide left of goal. Three minutes later, Goodwin saved yet another blast in the box from Keane.
Even with three more minutes added by the referee on top of the 15-minute second overtime period, the Galaxy could never find the back of the net.
After the match, Arena declined to speak with the media, sending associate head coach Dave Sarachan in his stead. When Sarachan wasn’t griping about the supposedly poor lighting illuminating Field 2, he reflected the mood of the snake-bitten Galaxy.
“It’s a quiet locker room,” he said, “because they’re disappointed and because they put everything out there today.”
Donovan was incredulous yet gracious in defeat.
“You have to give them a lot of credit,” he said. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred you win that game. had everything go their way tonight. They played well, they defended well and their goalie had one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. And they got the goal that they needed.
“We can’t fault our effort. We gave everything, but everyone’s been part of games like that in soccer. It’s a crazy, cruel game sometimes.”
With three straight Open Cup wins over the Galaxy on top of knocking LA out of the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League when he was managing the Puerto Rico Islanders, Clarke has become quite the burr in the Galaxy’s saddle.
“ are a great team,” Clarke said. “They’ve been one of the best teams in the country for a long time. They have players with lots of talent, and they play the right way. We knew we were going to have to defend to get the result … We found a way to get a win, which is pretty special.”
The RailHawks’ midseason NASL break is turning into anything but. Carolina now advances to the Quarterfinals of the US Open Cup for the second straight season. Riding an unbeaten home streak that has now reached 23 games, the RailHawks will host FC Dallas on July 9.
Before that, the RailHawks will undoubtedly take a few days to bask in the afterglow of this victory. It was an unusual outcome to an unusual event, where the RailHawks were tasked with the Herculean task of putting together a high-profile match on a converted practice field in just over a week. The configuration of the venue created a festive environment for fans. The players had to navigate their way through the stands in order to enter and exit both the park and field, and the fans took advantage of the close proximity to snare autographs from Donovan, Keane, and others.
Indeed, before saluting his players, Clarke first paid tribute to the team’s staff.
“Under tough circumstances of having to play out on Field 2, the staff put that together on short notice,” Clarke said. “I thought it looked professional and well set up. It was great to play on, and that goes a long way to winning the game. They made it a special game.”
HIGHLIGHTS: LA GALAXY AT CAROLINA RAILHAWKS
MATCH REPLAY: LA GALAXY AT CAROLINA RAILHAWKS