Home NASL & USL More NASL & USL Collapse of Rennie’s RailHawks a cause for concern for Whitecaps’ fans

Collapse of Rennie’s RailHawks a cause for concern for Whitecaps’ fans


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.


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.

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  1. jedinathan

    October 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Good article Steven.
    I completely agree with you. Losing the last 4 in the regular season, when the team hadn’t even come close to losing in the first half, says a lot. It’s very telling that Minnesota and Fort Lauderdale are two teams that had stellar second halves of the season, while Carolina has been crumbling. The skill was there (obviously with Barbara and Campos being the league leaders in goals), but the direction seemed to be missing with the loss of their Captain and announcement of Rennie leaving.


  2. Caleb

    October 17, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Nah, this is why American soccer is so poor, pressure on the guy before a ball is kicked? Ever since Whitecaps announced Martin was leaving the RailHawks, the mood changed in the RailHawks camp and it caused Martin problems and you can tell by the results… the question is, why did it go public so soon?

    You probably needed to write something to post on this blog so you had two articles written so you could post something knowing the opportunity as a journalist; one if he won and one if he lost. Did you see Martin’s subs who came on and scored? Did you see with 10 men he changed the shape and they won the game in normal time? The fact one guy missed a PK makes him a bad coach… wow, I’m not sure you understand the game.


    • Steven Sandor

      October 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      I did watch the series (and, being a veteran of the daily newspaper game, I can write very quickly — comes with the territory!). Yes, Carolina did have a good second half of the second leg — and, as I stated in the article — that’s when the RailHawks woke up. But I would question a coach who couldn’t motivate his squad through the entire first leg or the first hald of the second.

      A coach’s job is to be both a tactician and motivator. Fans often forget that the latter is just as important as the former. I have seen a lot of wonderful Xs and Os people struggle because they couldn’t motivate players. And, based on three of the four halves (I know that looks funny in print), Carolina wasn’t at the top of its game.

      Agreed, it was an issue to name Rennie as the Whitecaps’ new coach with so many games left in both the MLS and NASL seasons.

      But myself and other staffers at The 11 watched the RailHawks down the stretch. And we were convinced this wasn’t the same team. Funny, the way that they have been playing over the last month — their loss to Minnesota wasn’t really that major of an upset.


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