Match Report: Carolina Railhawks v Vancouver Whitecaps (USL1)
The anticipation was huge and the reward was palpable, as Portland Timbers awaited the winners of Vancouver Whitecaps 2nd leg playoff clash with the Carolina Railhawks on Sunday.
As we’ve mentioned before in this blog, the whole playoff system in North American football devalues the League as far as we’re concerned, but once they’re here and you’re playing in them, they’re exciting as hell!
Vancouver did the business in the first leg on Thursday, taking a 1-0 lead to Carolina’s WakeMed Park. Carolina looked a poor side in the first leg but they took the surprise decision to rest some key players, all of whom were back for the second leg, including the ever dangerous Gregory Richardson.
The Whitecaps made the decision to start the match with top scorer, and USL Golden Boot winner, Charles Gbeke on the bench. It was a pacy starting line up, with the aim to clearly try and tire the Carolina side early on.
Carolina on the other hand were keen to try and get parity early on and that’s how they set their stall from the first whistle and it only took them two minutes to come close to their goal.
Daniel Paladini sent in a dangerous free kick from the left and it was a Caps head that turned it just wide for a Carolina corner.
Carolina thankfully didn’t follow up this early close call with a spell of pressure and were reduced with trying the long ball over the top of the Whitecaps defence, with little success.
The Railhawks had a penalty shout waved away after 18 minutes when Mark Schulte’s header hit off Kenold Versailles, but the replay showed that the ball clearly hit his chest.
Versailles himself then came closest to opening the scoring on the day when he picked up a loose ball in the Hawks box and crashed a powerful volley off the Carolina bar after 25 minutes. It was one hell of a shot that left the bar rattling for a while after the danger was cleared.
The Haitian international then came close again four minutes later but his header went wide.
With 34 minutes on the clock it looked like disaster had struck Vancouver when Lyle Martin tangled with Richardson in the box and bundled the speedy Guyanan over for a penalty. There was no question about it and up stepped the usually decisive Paladini. Jay Nolly brilliantly saved down to his right though to keep the score level on the day and the Caps ahead on aggregate.
Paladini then wasted a free kick from a good central position as the half drew to a close before the final chance of the half fell to Marcus Haber, but his long range shot didn’t trouble Eric Reed in the Carolina goal.
Three minutes of stoppage time came and went and Vancouver had 45 minutes to hold on to progress.
Vancouver fans knew that a tense and nervy second 45 minutes lay in store.
Carolina made a big change at the half, bringing on recent signing Matthew Delicate up front for the ineffectual Sallieu Bundu. Vancouver responded nine minutes into the half by bringing off Marlon James up front and replacing him by the super quick, and first leg goalscorer, Randy Edwini-Bonsu.
Randy nearly made an immediate impact racing into the box and seemingly being brought down by Schulte, but no penalty was given.
If defending the lead was in the Whitecaps gameplan then it wasn’t showing and with just under half an hour remaining, Haber made way for Charles Gbeke.
Gbeke was in amongst the action right away, just failing to properly connect with a cross into the box, as Vancouver pushed to kill the game off.
Carolina thought they’d levelled against the run of play in the 64th minute when they had the ball in the net but it was clearly offside.
Vancouver were having the majority of the possession in the half and Versailles found himself in room to have another header in the 69th minute, but it was high and over.
Carolina had to up the tempo and wasted a great opportunity with 13 minutes remaining after a neat one-two between John Cunliffe and Brad Rusin.
The Railhawks had a great opportunity with seven minutes left when Delicate ran onto to a long through ball but Jay Nolly came flying out of his goal to clear the danger with an amazing diving header.
As the game went in to the last five minutes, the tension was becoming unbearable, not helped by the fact that Vancouver have had a horrible habit for losing late goals this year.
Justin Moose came close for the Caps with a shot from outside the box before Edwini-Bonsu made way for Mason Trafford to tighten up the back.
The referee, who had a shocker on the whole indicated five minutes of stoppage time but it wasn’t to help Carolina as Vancouver easily closed out the game to deservedly advance.
So it’s semi final action against arch rivals Portland this coming Thursday and next Sunday. I can’t wait already!