CARY — The NASL Spring Season ended last Sunday for the Carolina RailHawks with an embarrassing 6-1 loss against FC Edmonton, and Carolina isn’t scheduled to play another league match until mid-July. But the team won’t be taking much of a break.
Head coach Colin Clarke’s squad will look to bounce back while competing in the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The RailHawks will host a familiar opponent, Chivas USA of MLS, in the fourth round at WakeMed Soccer Park on Saturday.
The game will mark the third straight year that the RailHawks will have hosted Chivas USA in the U.S. Open Cup. Carolina lost in 2012 but was victorious in 2013.
Clarke knows that his team has a track record of winning against MLS teams in the U.S. Open Cup, and he’s optimistic about the upcoming battle with Chivas USA.
“We’ve had some great nights in this competition over the past couple of years, and we’re looking forward to another one,” Clarke said.
The U.S. Open Cup is a competition which features teams from varying levels of competition from across the United States.
All NASL teams competing in the U.S. Open Cup received a double-bye through the first and second rounds of the championship. The RailHawks opened up Cup play in the third round with a 2-0 win against the Charlotte Eagles in late May.
But facing a team from the MLS, the USA’s highest level of soccer competition, poses a much greater challenge for Carolina.
Yet the RailHawks have proven in past years that taking down an MLS team is very doable.
In 2013, the RailHawks made a run to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup behind victories against the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA. Carolina is 3-2 against MLS teams in the past two seasons.
The RailHawks, who went 4-3-2 (W-L-T) over the course of the NASL Spring Season, have had a Jekyll and Hyde personality over the past few seasons.
While Carolina has a 21-game home unbeaten streak, the RailHawks have just one road win in the team’s 21 last road contests dating back to 2012.
But when the RailHawks have played well of late, goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald has been a big reason for the success.
Before Sunday’s unusual performance in which he surrendered six goals, Fitzgerald had recorded three straight clean sheets.
“For a small keeper, he’s very agile and very quick around the goal,” Clarke said of Fitzgerald.
Carolina hasn’t overwhelmed many opponents with its offensive attack, but the RailHawks do have four different players with two or more goals as forward Zack Schilawski leads the way with three.
Chivas USA, which has former U.S. men’s national team great Carlos Bocanegra, enters its matchup with the RailHawks having struggled mightily as of late, winning just one of its last five matches.