On a rainy Saturday evening in Cary, North Carolina , the Carolina Railhawks were a club without an answer to the question spreading throughout the North American Soccer League: How do you stop the Ottawa Fury?
The Fury were comfortable 3-1 winners on the night, and with FC Edmonton beating the New York Cosmos on Sunday in Alberta, the Ottawa club are now in first place in both the Fall and Combined tables with five matches remaining in the regular season. The Fury thus swept the longest road trip of their season, going three for three against Fort Lauderdale, the Cosmos and the Railhawks, scoring nine goals and allowing two along the way.
Two goals by Tommy Heinemann and some insurance through Paulo Junior were plenty to ensure victory against a Railhawks team that does not look likely to make a playoff push. Despite a few brief signs of life throughout the 90 minutes, for the most part the Railhawks looked a team resigned to their fate, shoulders slumped and faces long. The contrast between the two clubs was stark, to the point where a casual observer may have thought it was the Railhawks who had been on the road for 9 days, not the Fury.
All three Ottawa goals were perfect representations of the players who scored them. Heinemann’s first goal of the night, in particular, showcased the big man’s strength and tenacity. Having received a pass from captain Richie Ryan, the man fans call “Soopah Tom” was directly pressured by two Railhawks defenders. With his back to goal, Heinemann shielded the ball and muscled his way away from them, finding an open path to goal and sliding the ball under keeper Akira Fitzgerald into the back of the net. It may have been the finest goal of his Ottawa Fury career. For his second goal, only 14 minutes later, an unlucky bounce off a Railhawks midfielder saw the ball stray perfectly into Heinemann’s path as he accepted the invitation to go in all alone, expertly slotting the ball past Fitzgerald into the side-netting.
One thing beyond doubt is that Paulo Junior’s goal was the highlight of his Fury career (and will be difficult to top). Collecting the ball well within his own half, the Brazilian ducked and weaved his way up the left side, leaving defenders in his wake before creating space for himself for a shot which he drove past Fitzgerald. Squint while watching the highlight and you’d be excused for thinking it was Diego Maradona in a black shirt. To be perfectly honest, however, it was an indictment of just how little fight was on display from the Railhawks on this night.
The Railhawks did get a consolation goal in the second half as the game became a little tighter and Nacho Novo was able to draw a penalty from Fury defender Colin Falvey. It was a rare mistake by Falvey who allowed himself to get on the wrong side of the former Glasgow Rangers man and tugged him down in the 18-yard box.
Things got heated toward the end of the match, as the Railhawks found something to spark them in the creative time-bending ways of Fury keeper Romuald Peiser. Had the Railhawks found the passion with which they opposed the keeper’s antics earlier, they may have had a better result rather than see one of their best players (Novo) sent off for petulantly picking up his second yellow.
The Fury now return home to face a suddenly resurgent FC Edmonton, who broke into the top four in the Combined table with their win against the Cosmos. Fury supporters will surely greet their team as conquering heroes, which should make for a great energy on Sunday afternoon.
Man of the Match: Tommy Heinemann. As mentioned previously, his two goals were quintessential Heinemann when he is playing at full throttle.
Next Match: The Fury host their Canadian rivals FC Edmonton on Sunday afternoon at Lansdowne Park Stadium to kick off their October schedule. Carolina are off until October 10th when they host the Jacksonville Armada.