BY J. MIKE BLAKE, SPORTS EDITOR
CARY — In his first official appearance as a RailHawk, midfielder Gregory Richardson played brilliantly in front of the orange-clad home crowd, scoring the game's first goal on Sunday, setting the tone for a 2-1 RailHawks win over Vancouver WakeMed Soccer Park.
Richardson deftly darted around defenders and was as quick as the surrounding far away lightning that surrounded, but never infiltrated, the stadium.
His efforts paid off in the 44th minute, when Richardson, worked his way into the box and juked out defender Wes Knight — sending Knight into the opposite direction, practically dancing on one leg — before sending a shot that deflected into and then over defender Marco Reda for the goal.
It technically could've been an "own goal," but it stands as Richardson's first with the team since he joined the team as a trialist in July. The assist went to John Cunliffe, who sent the ball to Richardson to get that play started.
When asked if he thought Richardson could score his first goal so quickly, coach Martin Rennie said simply "Yeah."
"I know how good he is," Rennie said. "He doesn't train very well, but in the games he's outstanding." With Richardson in the lineup, the RailHawks were as aggressive as ever, forcing 13 shots faced and having numerous one-on-one chances with the Vancouver goalkeeper. That being said, Richardson hasn't played a competitive match since May, and his conditioning isn't even up to his own standards yet — a scary thought for future USL-1 opponents and their ankles.
"I'm not fit yet, I was getting a little tired in the first half," Richardson said. "When I get fully fit, people will see. I'll move faster than I am now."
The RailHawks tacked on another goal in the 65th minute when Brian Plotkin, who appeared to be grossly offsides, played a ball too far for teammate Sallieu Bundu at the top of the 18-box.
But when goalkeeper Jay Nolly tried to clear the ball, Bundu met him, and the ball skied 20 feet into the air. Nolly and Bundu, with nobody within 10 yards of them, fought for positioning until the ball descended onto the head of Bundu and into the open net.
"I was expecting a goal, especially in the second half because of the way I played in the first half. I could tell [Vancouver players] were getting tired," Bundu said. "When we went to the locker room at halftime, I told the guys 'guys just keep giving me the ball. They are getting tired and I'm going to get one.'"
Bundu, who predicted to his fiance before the game that he would score, picked up a yellow card for his celebration that exposed his chest and abdominal muscles — which he also predicted would happen.
In spite of the win, which gives the RailHawks 30 points in USL-1 play and moves them to 9-4-3 overall, Rennie couldn't help but be dismayed at how many chances didn't go right for his aggressive team.
For instance, in the 37th minute, Daniel Paladini hit the post for the sixth time this year.
"I'm just frustrated because it could've been so much more — it's annoying me," Rennie said. "We missed about seven really clear chances. Literally, seven."
The coach did, however, add that it was "a good problem to have."
"The sign of a good team is kind of grinding through it and still finding ways to get a result," Plotkin said. "Especially when you can grind through it and turn it around in the same game, and I think we did that."
Vancouver tacked on another goal in the 90th minute off an impressive blast from the gargantuan Charles Gbeke, but it was all the Whitecaps could muster.
The RailHawks won't take long to return to action, as Rennie said only a handful of player who played on Friday will turn around and be ready on Saturday at 7 p.m. when his team plays against Estudiantes Tecos of the Mexican First Division.