BY J. MIKE BLAKE
CARY -- The Carolina RailHawks entered the second leg of their opening-round playoff game needing to win by two goals to advance in the USL-1 playoffs.
Instead, they posted none in a 0-0 tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park -- thus bringing the most successful season in franchise history to a close.
The Whitecaps, defending United Soccer Leagues First Division champions but the lower seed in this series, won Game 1 of the home-and-home on Thursday 1-0, which allowed them to win on aggregate goals.
For first-year coach Martin Rennie, who won a USL-2 championship last year at Cleveland before directing the RailHawks to a second-place finish, the season ended too soon.
"I felt like the first goal, obviously, was going to be important, and in the first half we had a few chances to do that, and we didn't take it and then it made it more difficult because we started to go more direct," Rennie said.
"That's not usually the way we play. We're usually a lot more thought-through, much more precise. But I think when we weren't getting the goal, we started to maybe panic a little bit. And when we did that, it made them more difficult to break down."
It was the first time Carolina had been shut out at home since June 11 in a 0-0 tie with the USL-1's top team, Portland.
"I told Martin on the way back to Seattle, we're going to beat them two or three to zero," forward Daniel Paladini said. "Especially with how many goals we scored at home this season and we had fresh legs coming in -- it just wasn't our night."
There was a prime chance to score when forward Gregory Richardson was fouled in the box on a breakaway, setting up a penalty kick in the 36th minute. Paladini took the shot, but was turned away by Vancouver goalkeeper Jay Nolly when he went for the bottom left corner.
“I take a lot of the responsibility,” a dejected Paladini said. “I had a chance to tie us and just slipped.”
The missed opportunity took the life out of the team and crowd until the final few minutes of desperation. The Whitecaps, playing conservatively with a one-goal lead in the series, frustrated the front line of the RailHawks.
“We just weren’t composed in the front and ultimately I think that’s what cost us,” Paladini said. Carolina goalkeeper Eric Reed has six saves in the tie. His counterpart, Nolly, had to make just four.
Carolina goalkeeper Eric Reed had six saves. His counterpart, Nolly, had to make just four.
Nolly was out of position in the 81st minute after he headed out a cross. RailHawks reserve Gavin Ginton had a chance to lob the ball into the unprotected net, but the errant kick came nowhere close to the goal.
"I think it's been a good season -- not a great season because a great season is winning championships and things like that. But in a lot of ways we came a lot further than people thought we would in a short space of time," Rennie said. "But I think we know what we have to do to build a good team. We've got the nucleus now of a good team, and I think in time we can make it much stronger."