On Saturday April 7th, 2012 the RailHawks will face off against defending NASL Champions, Minnesota Stars, in Minnesota to open the 2012 NASL season. With the preseason complete, here are a few things fans can expect for the upcoming season.
New coach, new challenges
With the departure of Martin Rennie, the RailHawks brought Colin Clarke to rebuild the team and capture the first championship. With the team being a part of the US Open Cup, Clarke has made it clear that he will pursue both the regular season and Open Cup with the objective is to win both. Clarke returns a solid foundation of players from the RailHawks record-breaking 2011-team as well key player additions coming from Major League Soccer and NASL teams. The coach has worked from day one instilling a strong sense of team with strong veteran leadership to guide a roster that has an average age of 26 years old. The roster also includes strong local ties to the Triangle area.
In all the preseason games the RailHawks were able to generate plenty of scoring opportunities. Most of the chances came from the speed and precision of midfielders Nick Zimmerman and Mike Palacio, along with the constant movement and pressure applied by forwards, Brian Shriver, Jason Garey, and Brian Ackley. Also, players such as Amir Lowery, Austin Da Luz, Ty Shipalane, Cory Elenio, and Breiner Ortiz have shown their offensive prowess throughout the preseason, showing that goals will be coming from positions all over the field.
Defensive youth and experience
Defensively the RailHawks were able to secure the return of high-performing veterans such as team captain Kupono Low, Greg Shields, Amir Lowery, Chris Nurse, and John Krause. The addition of Sam Stockley brings enormous experience and leadership after having played professionally for 16 years in Europe. During preseason, a youthful group led by center back Austen King and right back Justin Willis was blended in with the veteran defenders. Costa Rican James Scott proved his value as a physical presence in the central of the defense that makes this a well versed group of defenders.
The young US international, Gale Agbossoumonde, a player regarded as one of the most promising in the country, will surely leave his mark in Carolina once he recovers from a toe injury and returns to the field. With all the players competing for the starting spots, coach Clarke will have a high-caliber defense with enough depth for long runs into the NASL playoffs and US Open Cup.
Quick Stars Facts
· A strong core returns for the reigning champions. The team returns its entire starting defense from 2012 and all three of its leading scorers, Neil Hlavaty, Simone Bracalello and Devin Del Do.
· The team will also be boosted by the arrival of Martin Nuñez from Fort Lauderdale and the return of Daniel Wasson, who missed 2011 with a torn ACL.
· With NASL October Player of the Month Joe Warren's retirement after a remarkable playoff run, the Stars find themselves without a proven veteran between the pipes. Warren had a career year last year and was among the NASL leaders in saves and goals against while starting all but one game. Matt VanOekel and Mitch Hildebrandt will compete to fill Warren’s role.
· The Stars relied on their defense on the way to a championship in 2011, but the team will welcome a breakout year from its forwards. Devin Del Do and Amani Walker enjoyed strong preseasons. Improved consistency will be required from Simone Bracalello, who is always a threat to score a spectacular goal.
· Minnesota returns joint leading scorer from 2011 Neil Hlavaty, who brings the team a strong element on set pieces.
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