The Carolina RailHawks battled Chivas USA to a 3-1 victory after 120 minutes of play in their fourth-round match in the 100th Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament played in front of a crowd of 5,066 in attendance at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. on Wednesday.
Cesar Elizondo scored the eventual game-winning goal in the 92nd minute during the first half of extra time when his one-timer beat Chivas goalkeeper Dan Kennedy courtesy of an untouched cross from Ty Shipalane which came from the right side of the box.
Just six minutes later, Brian Ackley extended the lead, heading a ball of his own into the goal on a well-placed corner kick by Floyd Franks, and finalized the 3-1 score for the RailHawks.
In a hotly contested match that included a total of seven yellow cards being given out, Carolina secured its second consecutive win over a Major League Soccer (MLS) opponent in Open Cup play, having beaten the LA Galaxy 2-0 back on May 29th.
The North American Soccer League’s (NASL) top team moved on to the quarterfinal round of play to face Real Salt Lake and to continue on their quest to capture the sport’s top prize in the United States.
“I thought we were the better team over the 90 minutes,” RailHawks head coach Colin Clarke said.
“I thought they were superb tonight – our players. It was a tough game in these conditions, in this heat. They showed a lot of heart and character to go out and win the game. They thoroughly deserved it.”
Getting the first one early
It was Shipalane who put Carolina ahead in the 12th minute when Brian Shriver started the play on the Chivas side of the midfield when he placed a short volley past the defense.
The young South African forward then chipped the ball past a charging Kennedy, and allowed himself enough time and space to outrun defender Josue Soto to one-touch the ball into the open goal.
“The game had a lot of energy from the get-go and we were able to get the first goal and we just fed off of that,” Shipalane said.
Even though both teams finished the first half even in shots taken (3), the RailHawks looked to be in control of the match at halftime, even while Chivas had some significant chances to even the score.
Change in tempo on both sides
As the second half was about to begin, Clarke gathered his players together on their half of the field and emphasized the need to maintain the pace that they played with to begin the game.
“I was just talking about trying to pick the tempo up a little bit,” Clarke said.
“I thought we were a little bit slow at moving the ball. Any time we did move it quickly, we caused them problems and hurt them.”
Clarke’s concern regarding his team’s tempo rang true as Chivas began the half by switching to a conservative 4-4-2 formation and focused its play to slow and contain Carolina’s offense more in zone coverage rather than the aggressive 3-4-3 setup it utilized during the opening half.
“They changed some things on the wide areas,” Clarke pointed out.
The modification worked to the visiting team’s favor as it outchanced and outshot the RailHawks 6-1 in the half, including tying the game in the 56th minute as Walter Vilchez’s header amongst a crowd on a corner kick initiated by Carlos Alavarez tied the game 1-1.
“I think we got caught flat footed for a minute there – lost the concentration inside the box”, Shipalane said.
Even while allowing Chivas to get the equalizer, the RailHawks finished the half with a renewed energy level and threatened to score on numerous occasions including in the 78th minute when Shipalane broke free past three Chivas defenders before being aggressively pushed off the ball in the box, but with no foul call being made.
Playing until the final whistle
As the jeers and boos echoed from the crowd, both teams continued to play on including during four extra minutes of stoppage time that ended with both teams still tied, and headed to play two 15-minute extra time halves.
“We never give up,” Shipalane stated.
“We knew it was too much time left in the game, and if we had to go extra time, so be it. We were able to start afresh from extra time and we were able to get our goal and that was big for us.”
On recounting the set-up of Elizondo’s goal, Shipalane pointed out that the team’s scouting of Chivas showed that the Goats’ major weakness was in defensive coverage which he managed to take advantage of one more time during extra time play.
“The guys were able to stretch them (the defense) out a little bit and I was able to slip behind them, took a cut and got my head up, and then I saw Cesar making a cut at the top of the box.”
After enduring such a physical battle during a muggy evening against Chivas, Clarke pointed out that his team was ready to get back to work in maintaining a hold on their lead in the NASL while preparing to move on in Hunt Cup play.
“We’ll be ready,” Clarke said.
“It’s what we’re here for. That’s what it’s about – getting to this stage of the season with the chance of winning a championship and the chance of advancing further in the Open Cup. You can’t ask for any more than that.”
With little time to recover, Carolina will prepare for its next league game when it travels to take on FC Edmonton on Sunday.
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