By: Trey Walker
Wakemed Soccer Park: Cary, NC July 12, 2016
For the first time ever, a British Premier League team made a trip to the Triangle for a friendly. High hopes surrounded this match, as it was the first ever sellout in Railhawks history (10,125 people were in attendance). Prior to the match, fans enjoyed food and festivities outside the stadium. The sun set behind the east stand and at 8, arguably Carolina’s most important match ever began.
Initially, the momentum of the game didn’t really favor either West Ham or Carolina, defensive stops resulted in counterattacks that sailed off target or were turned over.
Until the 13th minute.
Carolina had pushed the ball onto the Hammers side of the field, where a wingman crossed the rock over to forward Matt Fondy for a shot on goal.
In attempt to clear the ball out, West Ham defender, Winston Reid, slid near the goal and in front of Fondy, and took a bad touch. The ball slipped past the goalie for an own goal. Suddenly fireworks shot up, and the crowd went absolutely berserk, for their 5 to 1 underdog Railhawks had just taken a 1-0 lead over an elite Premier League team.
Fans really expressed their pride after the own goal. One man sitting close shouted, “Reid is our best player!”
Play shortly resumed, and it did not take long for the Hammers to earn back what they had lost. Ironically, Winston Reid(Guess he learned which goal to shoot on) scored the equalizer for West Ham in the 17th minute.
West Ham took advantage of the momentum swing, and in the 20th minute, notched one more goal before the half off of a nice shot from forward Andy Carroll.
Once the whistle blew for halftime, the PA announcer informed the fans to stay in their seats and await an “important announcement”. Then Railhawks owner, Steve Malik, and the play by play announcer approached midfield and stopped in front of a press conference back-drop.
The crowd fell silent awaiting the big news.
Steve Malik took the mic and happily informed the fans that the Railhawks had just signed Mexican International Team star, Omar Bravo, who he believed to be the biggest front office move in franchise history. Bravo emerged from the tunnel and received a warm welcome from his fans. He is the all-time leading scorer at his former club, Cd Chivas Guadalajara, and should be a great scorer for the Railhawks.
A slew of substitutions occurred before the teams continued to play in the second half. Both teams looked a little sluggish coming out of the break, and players started to get a little chippy with one another.
Rain started to fall in the early moments of the half, and in the 62nd minute, the referee decided to postpone the game after spotting lightning. Fans were forced to evacuate the stadium. Many fled to their cars and headed home.
In their last important homestand (against the New England Revolution of the MLS), the Railhawks fell victim of inclement weather(the game was called due to lightning) and they were not about to let that happen again.
After about a 45 minute delay, the match finally resumed. Despite taking a break, the fans didn’t fail to keep it rowdy.
As time waned, the Railhawks started to take chances, as it was becoming evident that a draw was a more plausible outcome than a victory.
In the 67th minute, Marvin Ceballos was rewarded a penalty kick after a West Ham defender committed a hand ball inside of the box, and easily scored the tying goal.
No team had complete control for the rest of the game, it was evenly matched. When the referee blew the final whistle, the soaked, exhausted, dirty players applauded their keeper and the crowd.
This game was a great step forward for soccer in the Triangle. Carolina proved that they can hang with high caliber competition, and the Triangle proved that they will show out for matches.