2015 wasn’t the season that Carolina Railhawks supporters thought they were going to have. It wasn’t a bad season, but it failed to inspire. The team nestled itself quite firmly at midtable. Neither poor nor exceptional, Carolina became a team that merely was.
While having a potent offense (one that was only shut out five times), Carolina failed to keep opponents out of the net–four cleansheets for the year (two in the Spring and two in the Fall). Injuries were an issue but not as significant as it had been in the past as key attackers maintained their presence in the line-up throughout the season. Right winger Tiyi Shipalane managed to put in a full, healthy season recording 7 goals and 9 assists. Central attacking midfielder Nazmi Albadawi started the season very cold but managed to find his form by the close notching 6 goals and 3 assists. Neil Hlavaty patrolled the center of the pitch nearly all season serving as the dynamic core of the team, and when Austin da Luz and Simone Bracalello returned from injury, the Railhawks showed us glimpses of the squad it meant itself to be.
Now begins the process of reforming the team in the offseason to push it over the hump to move from one of the NASL’s most respected teams to one of its elite. A new, ambitious owner with a good attitude signals that this is exactly what will happen in Cary, North Carolina. The moves made thus far in the early, early offseason are not flashy, but are more than sensible.
The first step always cutting and re-signing. Those players the club declined the option on never really impacted the team in 2015 for whatever reason (Hunter Gilstrap, Austen King, Jack Coleman, Gabriel Da Silva, Jamie Dell, Chris Nurse, Simone Bracalello, Mamadee Nyepon, and Bradlee Baladez). I would argue that Bracalello produced when he was able to get minutes but injury did him in and that the same could have been said for Nurse, a brawler of the ball winning midfielder. This move was more along the lines of trimming the fat than anything else.
Next, we have the new signings. If there was one particular area where the Railhawks lacked consistency it was at fullback, specifically, at rightback. Kupono Low has owned leftback for the team and been one of its stalwarts and leaders. On the right, Black Wagner was suppose to be the answer but his 2015 campaign was utterly underwhelming.
To rectify the situation, Carolina’s first move was to sign Steven Miller permanently from the USL’s Tulsa Roughnecks. In Tulsa, Miller notched the second most minutes on the team scoring three goals and providing two assist. For a defender, those are good numbers. A loan to Carolina after the USL season ended and Tulsa missed out on the playoffs gave Miller his chance to audition for a permanent spot. He started every one of the Railhawks last five games. As what is often called an ‘outside back’ by American commentators, Miller showed himself to be a solid rightback during his brief loan. The signing buttresses Shipalane making Carolina’s right side much more threatening and secure.
During the season, Carolina had good centerback pairing in Conor Tobin and Futty Danso. Yet as mentioned, the number of cleansheets the pair kept could be counted on one hand. That’s not to say Tobin and Danso are entirely to blame because they aren’t. What Carolina desperately needs is depth at centerback. To address this the Railhawks have signed former FC Edmonton defender Kareem Moses.
The bulk of minutes Moses played in 2015 were at centerback but he can fill in when needed at leftback and (if unspectacularly) rightback. A few weeks ago, I speculated that Moses would have been a good fit with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, a team with virtually no quality defenders. I don’t know if Moses will be a starter in Carolina; it’ll depend on whether or not Tobin and Danso return. Some may see the signing as a lateral move or a depth signing, but I believe at twenty-five Moses is poised to establish himself.
Neither of these signings are enough to pull Carolina out of the middling state it was in during the 2015 season. But each is a savvy addition and part of a slow build that manager Colin Clarke knows is vital during the NASL offseason. There will be bigger signings for Carolina to come, but building from the back is always a strong start.