The Carolina RailHawks travel to New York to face the Cosmos for the first time since their loss in Shuart Stadium on May 1st. The last encounter between the two not only gave Carolina its first loss of the season, but put an end to the four-game winning streak they opened their season with and began the seven-game winless streak that continued into the fall.
After the narrow 1-0 loss, the RailHawks were winless for the remainder of the Spring season and started their Fall season with a loss. Since then, their record has evened out, going 3-3-2, capped last week by a stoppage time winner over the Indy Eleven.
Carolina has made several additions to the side since their last encounter with the Cosmos, most notably at their forward positions. Omar Bravo and Matt Fondy have combined for nine of the sixteen goals scored by the RailHawks this fall.
Carolina continues to have a particularly talented midfield to support their forwards. Tiyi Shipalane is a force to be reckoned with on the right side and Nazmi Albadawi leads the league in assists. Other key figures in the midfield, like Austin da Luz and Matt Watson, have also factored in heavily.
Most of the questions about the RailHawks are on the defensive end. They have permitted the most goals in the league this year and are tied for most goals permitted this fall. Nine matches this fall have seen seven different back lines. Most of the inconsistencies have come at center back.
The right and left full back positions, filled by Steven Miller and Paul Black, respectively, have been far more consistent. Black has previously looked solid and adds well to the offense with his quality crosses. Miller scored a goal in their win over Indy last week.
The net has been another point of debate. While Akira Fitzgerald was the clear number one choice last season, he and Brian Sylvestre have split time in the nets. Sylvestre has permitted 12 goals in 8 starts, making 30 saves. Fitzgerald has given up 19 goals in 11 games with 40 saves.
The biggest concerns for the Cosmos are defensive ones. It remains unclear what the status of the back line is with last week’s conspicuous absences of Hunter Freeman and Carlos Mendes. A defensive mistake from the center back duo of David Ochieng and Jimmy Ockford led to Puerto Rico’s goal. The diagonal through balls have often been a challenge for the back line. One of those balls came close to resulting in a goal for Carolina in their Spring match and only a charge from Jimmy Maurer saved them.
Offensively, the Cosmos could receive a boost as Yohandry Orozco may be cleared to play the match and Roversio’s appearance last week helped stabilize a back line that looked unsteady at points.
New York will need to capitalize on the defensive weaknesses Carolina has repeatedly exhibited, taking advantage of mistakes. At the same time, they will need to ensure better organization from their back line against a dangerous RailHawks counter with two potent weapons at the top.