CARY — Plenty of new faces took the field for the first time as members of the Carolina RailHawks in Sunday’s friendly match with Puebla FC of Mexico’s Liga MX, which Carolina won 2-1.
With abusy week ahead that includes a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal matchup with Dallas FC on Wednesday and an NASL contest with the Indy Eleven on Saturday, Carolina RailHawks coach Colin Clarke is looking at the next few days as marathon rather than sprint.
In order to keep fresh legs for more important matchups later in the week, none of the RailHawks’ usual starters entered the game until the 63rd minute.
Instead, local products such as defender Conor Donovan and midfielder Gabe Latigue stood out with solid performances. While Donovan and Latigue aren’t on the official RailHawks roster, both players were able to play due to the contest being a friendly.
The RailHawks opened up the scoring in the 38th minute when Donovan was able to get his head on a corner kick from Latigue.
After leaving Donovan’s head, the ball bounced off the crossbar before getting in the net.
For Donovan, a member of the RailHawks’ academy team, scoring his first professional goal was a chilling and memorable moment.
“It was awesome. That was something that you dream of. I get chills still thinking about it now. It was a lot of fun and exciting to score,” Donovan said.
Donovan, a Fuquay-Varina native, is a member of the U.S. U-20 National Team, and played at Cardinal Gibbons in Raleigh. He’ll be a freshman at N.C. State in the fall.
Latigue, who earned an assist on Donovan’s score, graduated from Panther Creek in 2009 before playing for four years at Elon.
In 2013 Latigue was drafted by the MLS’ New England Revolution, but suffered a torn ACL and MCL while on loan with the Rochester Rhinos of the USL Pro League in July of 2013. He was cut at the end of the season.
For Latigue, it was a good feeling to see the field again for the first time in a year since his injury, especially close to home with the RailHawks.
“Just to be back on the field, and training day in and day out with guys while being able to play in front of a crowd, like that was amazing,” Latigue said.
With the RailHawks leading 1-0, midfielder Tiyi Shipalane, one of Carolina’s most prolific scorers, put the RailHawks up by two as he scored on a breakaway off of a pass by forward Nick Zimmerman.
Puebla FC got on the board in the 87th minute with a goal by midfielder Francisco Acuna.
Carolina will shift its attention to Wednesday’s matchup with FC Dallas in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup. Clarke feels good about his team’s chances.
“We’re getting very close, you know. Semifinals, finals, it’s just a couple of games away. So, a win on Wednesday would be very big for us,” Clarke said.