Collapse of Rennie’s RailHawks a cause for concern for Whitecaps’ fans By Steven Sandor Posted on October 16, 2011 3 0 344 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter So many times in pro sports, we see teams that run away with regular-season titles fail in the playoffs. Complacency sets in and the big boys can’t ramp it up when the hungrier lower seeds face them in the playoffs. The runaway NASL-regular season champion Carolina RailHawks won’t play in the NASL final. Neither will the No. 2 seed Puerto Rico Islanders. The Islanders were sabotaged by a bad scheduling conflict. But the RailHawks, who lost four in a row to wrap the NASL season after it had clinched the title, were eliminated by the NSC Minnesota Stars in a wild, thoroughly entertaining semifinal second leg. After Pablo Campos scored at the death to tie the aggregate score 4-4, the Stars, up a man, were the better team throughout extra time. And, the Stars were perfect in the penalty shootout, eliminating the RailHawks. When the Vancouver Whitecaps announced that RailHawks coach Martin Rennie would take over the MLS side next season, the Scottish boss was smelling like a rose. Carolina was running away and hiding in the Div. 2 standings. But, the RailHawks lost focus, didn’t win in the final weeks of the season and were sluggish against Minnesota until the second half of the second leg of the semifinal. Now, instead of being a saviour, Rennie has to be viewed with suspicion by Whitecaps fans. When it mattered, the most talented team in NASL staggered. The rose has shown that it may be filled with thorns. The Stars led 1-0 on an Andrei Gotsmanov goal after the first leg, and held a one-goal lead going into halftime of the second leg in Cary, N.C. The Stars looked to have it won when Neil Hlavaty converted a second-half penalty kick to make it 4-3 on aggregate, after RailHawks defender Devon McKenney saw red for denying Lucas Rodriguez a surefire goal-scoring opportunity. Martin Rennie PHOTO: CAROLINA RAILHAWKS/NASL But Hlavaty surrendered a penalty kick of his own, after a deflected corner kick struck his arm. But Pablo Campos slammed the penalty kick off the bar. Campos, though, got his hat trick right at the death; with even keeper Brad Knighton forward deep into extra time, a scrambled corner kick fell to Campos, who put it home. With no advantage for road goals in NASL, the 4-4 draw went to extra time, even though the Stars had scored three road goals to Carolina’s none. Rodriguez finished the RailHawks’ season; when he converted his penalty, the Stars had gone five for five in the shootout. Stars’ keeper Joe Warren’s save on Jonny Steele proved to be the difference — and the road team never gave up that slight advantage. Fort Lauderdale’s ascension to the final was pretty well a given going into the second leg; after swamping FC Edmonton 5-0 in the quarter-final, the No. 4 seeded Strikers took advantage of a scheduling nightmare for the No. 2 seed Puerto Rico Islanders. The first leg in Bayamon conflicted with the international calendar, so 10 Islanders were missing due to international call-ups, including the team’s top offensive threat, Jonathan Fana. The Strikers became the first NASL team all season to win in Bayamon (by a 3-1 count) and wrapped up a spot in the finals with a 2-1 victory at home Saturday night.