The Carolina RailHawks grabbed a dramatic 1-1 draw at home to the Atlanta Silverbacks in the battle of the top two teams in the NASL Spring Standings on Saturday evening at WakeMed Soccer Park.
The result remains the RailHawks remain in first-place ahead of the Silverbacks, but Carolina was unable to clinch the Soccer Bowl berth in front of its home crowd of 5,304.
After an intense scoreless first half, defender Bobby Reiss gave Atlanta the lead in the 63rd minute, but midfielder Austin Da Luz tied it with a minute remaining to maintain Carolina’s unbeaten record at the Triangle, which stands at 4-0-1 this season.
“You got to hand it to the boys and we got the result,” said RailHawks coach Colin Clarke. “We knew that the first goal was going to be important tonight as we had our chances and we didn’t take them so it wasn’t what we were looking for.”
Both teams came out with intensity with NASL first place on the line with Atlanta having the first opportunity just nine seconds into the match with forward Brad Stisser's shot going wide of Carolina’s goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald.
After the RailHawks forwards Brian Shriver and Zack Schilawski had their chances going high and wide of goal in the 23 and 24 minutes, respectively, it was the Silverbacks with the first dangerous scoring opportunity when forward Ruben Luna’s shot was saved by keeper Fitzgerald in the 25th minute.
Carolina’s best opportunity to score in the first half came in the 40th minute when Costa Rican midfielder Cesar Elizondo’s shot was saved by goalkeeper Joe Nasco.
Two minutes later, Atlanta had another chance to open the score but Carolina’s Fitzgerald had another save this time from midfielder Borfor Carr to keep it scoreless just before halftime.
“We have the first and second place teams playing so we hope we are putting on a good show for our fans back in Atlanta but at the same time we want to spoil the party here,” said Silverbacks coach Brian Haynes at halftime.
Reiss broke the deadlock in second half with his first goal with the Silverbacks this season off an assist from Colombian forward Danny Barrera in the 63rd minute.
The RailHawks pushed for the equalizer and once again got a last minute heroic as Da Luz headed head in a corner kick off midfielder Ciaran O’Brien with 60 seconds remaining in the match.
The Silverbacks played the final minute with 10 players following the red card ejection of defender Beto Navarro after a hard foul towards RailHawks defender Mike Randolph.
Clarke added “It was important that we wanted to win it (the Spring title) in front of our own fans tonight but we couldn’t so we will have to do it on the road next week.”
Carolina along with Atlanta will be on the road next week in San Antonio and Minnesota, respectively, to conclude the Spring Season and with all still having the chance to win the crown along with the right to host Soccer Bowl.
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