Match Report: Carolina Railhawks v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL1)
Following a 2-1 defeat away to Miami on Sunday, Vancouver Whitecaps needed to get their season back on track once again last night against the Carolina Railhawks at Wakemed Soccer Park.
Last week’s 4-0 win over Minnesota already seemed like a distant memory and the Caps need to go on an unbeaten streak, and soon, if they want to claim a playoff place. Easier said than done of course if their horrendous injury problems don’t improve soon as well.
The game was played in front of a national TV audience as the USL Game of the Week live on Fox Sportsworld in Canada and Fox Soccer Channel in the US and a crowd of 4,018 in the stadium.
Vancouver started the game with Dever Orgill up front alongside Marcus Haber, surprisingly dropping joint top scorer Charles Gbeke. It was a young attack (a combined age of 39!) but Orgill has particularly impressed in the last few games, especially against Miami, and it’s good to see him get his chance at a starting spot.
Carolina Railhawks have a Scottish head coach in Martin Rennie, who was the 2007 USL2 Coach of the Year with Cleveland. A familiar name in the Carolina ranks (to Scottish people reading this at any rate!) is new signing Greg Shields from Dunfermline, who also had spells at Rangers, Charlton and Kilmarnock. He only signed on Thursday so wasn’t in the line up last night.
It was a cagey start to proceedings, with early possession shared and very little goalmouth action, apart from a slight half chance to Carolina after two minutes.
With 19 minutes gone, the Railhawks had a great chance to open the scoring when Kupono Low was set free on the left and he whipped a dangerous ball across the face of the goal that both Sallieu Bundu at the near post and Brian Plotkin at the back post both somehow failed to connect with.
Two minutes later and Carolina came even closer when the Caps failed to properly clear Mark Schulte’s long throw and Low sent another dangerous cross into the box for Plotkin, but Marco Reda got there first for the Caps, steering the ball inches wide with Jay Nolly left scrambling in the Vancouver goal.
A narrow escape there for the Whitecaps but Carolina tried to build on their momentum, whilst the Caps still looked a little pedestrian.
As the half hour mark approached Haber played a horrendous pass back to Reda, which the nippy Bundu intercepted and ran through to the Caps goal, but his control let him down and Nolly easily collected.
With 35 minutes gone Vancouver finally posed a real attacking threat when Haber did well to keep the ball in play on the right just in the Railhawks half. Haber cut inside and gave the ball to Lyle Martin in the middle, 25 yards out. Martin then went on a mazy but was easily dispossessed about 12 yards out.
Carolina immediately responded and Caleb Norkus played an inch perfect cross field ball into the path of Bundu, but once again the Railhawks striker’s control let him down, allowing Nolly to collect.
The home side were really piling on the pressure and moments later had the best chance of the match so far to open the scoring.
Daniel Paladini collected the ball fifteen yards into the Caps half, sprinted clear of a flat-footed Vancouver defence, cut inside and was unfortunate to see his low effort crash off the left post with Nolly helpless. The rebound fell right into the path of John Cunliffe eight yards out and his effort was brilliantly saved by Nolly at point blank range, although he was flagged for offside in any case.
Vancouver nearly took the lead against the run of play, with six minutes of the half remaining, when Haber and Martin found themselves two on two with the Hawks defence. With Martin straying into an offside position, Haber whipped the ball low and inches past the right hand post.
It was no surprise though when Carolina opened the scoring with two minutes of the half remaining.
Paladini dispossessed Martin Nash in the centre circle and the former MLS player ran on before playing the ball right to Cunliffe, whose low cross box pass found Gregory Richardson just inside the Caps box. Richardson waltzed past Wes Knight, hit the bye line and drilled a low ball towards Cunliffe, deflecting off a lunging Reda before it got there and past the helpless Nolly in the Vancouver goal.
Richardson has recently joined Carolina from the MLS’ Colorado Rapids and looks to be a great acquisition for them and his pace was causing problems for Vancouver.
That was the last real action of the first half and Vancouver went in really fortunate to be just the one goal down.
Teitur Thordarson was clearly as unhappy with the first half performance as the Caps fans watching at home and made three changes at half time, including Gbeke replacing Orgill, who had had a really quiet first forty-five, with Ethan Gage and Vicente Arze also coming on.
The new boys had an almost immediate effect, setting up Gordon Chin for a long range shot at Caleb Patterson-Sewell in the Hawks goal, just over a minute in.
Although the Caps were showing more urgency in this half, they were still wasting possession and not keeping hold of the ball long enough to slow up Carolina’s rhythm.
Before the game Teitur had said that he planned to use Marlon James, who is returning from injury, for the last 20 minutes but he was forced to throw the St Vincent and Grenadine international into proceedings a quarter of an hour early to try and spark something in Vancouver’s attack.
As the hour mark approached, the Caps won a free kick on the right 25 yards out. Takashi Hirano floated the ball delightfully into the box and Gbeke rose well to head narrowly wide of the left hand post.
Moments later and Gbeke put James through for a great chance but he was rightly adjudge to be offside.
With Vancouver seemingly in the ascendency, it came as a bit of a shock when Carolina doubled their lead after 65 minutes. Plotkin played a diagonal ball into Bundu and as Nolly raced out of his goal to clear, his shot rebounded off the fast onrushing Bundu high into the air. As Nolly and Bundu challenged to get the descending ball, the Railhawks forward seemed to get there a millisecond first and the ball ended up in the net from ten yards out. 2-0 Carolina.
The Railhawks should have wrapped the game up with a quarter of an hour to go.
Luke Kreamalmeyer (who sounds more like something you’d shout out in a doughnut shop as opposed to a football player) was set free on the right and his low ball across the 18 yard line was brilliantly dummied by Plotkin, right into the path of Bundu, but the Sierra Leone refugee hit his effort agonisingly inches wide.
The Whitecaps nearly made them pay immediately but James headed an effort just over.
Plotkin had another chance to kill the game off for the Railhawks with twelve minutes left. Collecting the ball outside the box, he powerfully drove on and forced Nolly into a great point blank save. The resultant corner was played to Paladini twenty yards out and he took a couple of touches before unleashing a fierce low shot to Nolly’s near post but the big Caps keeper brilliantly turned the ball round the post for another corner.
Carolina were never really likely to be in any danger though and apart from a couple of half chances, if you can even call them that, the game seemed destined to fizzle out.
The Railhawks though got their best chance to make it three with two minutes remaining.
The impressive Paladini, who seemed to be first to every ball in the middle of the park, played a quick through ball to Cunliffe, who in turn played it through to sub Gavin Glinton. Glinton was adjudged to have beaten the flat-footed Vancouver offside trap and found himself in acres of space with just Nolly to beat. His decision to do a step-over in front of Nolly was his downfall though and the Caps keeper easily gathered the ball. I’m sure the Hawks striker will blame it on the surprise at not being flagged offside!
Carolina were to get a late surprise though when out of nowhere the Caps pulled a goal back with thirty seconds of normal time remaining.
Gbeke played the ball wide left to Mason Trafford, ran into the box, collected Trafford’s pass and rifled the ball high into the net from 16 yards out.
It was too little too late though and Vancouver couldn’t grab a point in the three minutes of stoppage time added on.
The final whistle came and ended what was on the whole a shocking night for Vancouver and a very well deserved 2-1 Carolina win that keeps Vancouver rooted to fourth bottom spot in USL1.
The Whitecaps seem to be playing with very little confidence just now and very little team awareness and, dare I say, fight. There doesn’t seem to be any real leaders on the park and players who can make a difference and turn the game.
Hopefully when the players start to return from injury this will be different but it’s not going to happen overnight.
Jay Nolly was outstanding, easily the Caps Man of the Match. Gordon Chin also looked good in spell and Charles Gbeke added another goal and looked dangerous when given a chance to.
Where the Caps go from here, I don’t know. They need to find the map quickly though.
FULL TIME: Carolina Railhawks 2 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps