On July 19, 2006, the Carolina RailHawks were introduced as the state’s newest professional sports team at halftime of the USL First Division All-Star Game held at SAS Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. The name “RailHawks” was selected as part of a name-the-team contest, which was won by Cary resident Jarrett Campbell. A fictitious bird of prey, the RailHawk combines the speed and power of a locomotive with the aggressive and fierce nature of a hawk.
The team debuted at SAS Soccer Park, now WakeMed Soccer Park, in 2007. This soccer-specific stadium was the previous home of the Carolina Courage, a women’s professional team that was part of the WUSA until the league folded in 2003.
Born in a state deep-rooted in soccer tradition, the club has become a stronghold of the NASL while capturing national and international attention in its ten years of existence. From defeating the LA Galaxy three times in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, to hosting the first-ever English Premier League team to visit the Triangle in 2016, North Carolina FC has established itself as a rising star in soccer that maintains focus on youth development and fan engagement.
2007: The Inaugural Season
The Carolina RailHawks launched their inaugural season on April 21, 2007 in front of 6,327 fans at SAS Soccer Park. The team drew 1-1 with the Minnesota Thunder in their first official regular season match. Defender Kupono Low scored the first goal in franchise history when he blasted a 24-yard left-footed shot past Thunder keeper Joe Warren.
The club earned its first win on May 8, 2007 in an exhibition match against Chivas USA, where they defeated the MLS side 2-0. Head Coach Scott Schweitzer led the team to an eighth place finish in the USL First Division that year.
Nigerian striker Connally Edozien ended the season as the team’s leading scorer with eight goals and goalkeeper Chris McClellan set a club record with 12 shutouts in a single season, a record that is still in place today.
With a league record of 8W-12L-8D, the RailHawks made history in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup as they surged past MLS side Chicago Fire and regional rival Richmond Kickers to make it to the semi-final match. Despite falling 2-1 in added time against the New England Revolution, the RailHawks’ 2007 Open Cup run would be their most successful to date.
The RailHawks continued to broaden their schedule when they welcomed Liga MX’s Cruz Azul to Cary in an international exhibition match on July 25. Despite losing 2-0, the team played in front of a record crowd of 6,505 at SAS Soccer Park.
In their inaugural season, the RailHawks won the Southern Derby Cup- a fan-based soccer cup between USL teams based in the South-Atlantic region of the country (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama). Carolina went 3W-OL-1D in the Southern Derby, securing the first championship in club history.
2008: Establishing Excellence
The second regular season was similar to the first, as the team finished the USL season once again in eighth place, winning one more game than the previous year. The RailHawks started out strong with a seven game unbeaten streak before falling 1-0 to the Atlantic Silverbacks on May 10, 2008.
The highlight of the year came in July when the club hosted Liga MX side Club de Fútbol Monterrey and held the Mexican team to 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes. The RailHawks fell 1-4 in penalty kicks, but the competitive game showed the team’s ability play at a high level.
In their second season, the RailHawks proved dominance as they became back-to-back champions, winning the Southern Derby Cup yet again.
Chris McClellan remained in goal for Carolina, posting six shutouts in his second season with the club. After Connally Edozien transferred to Miami FC during the 2008 season, it was Hamed Diallo who stepped in as the club’s leading scorer. The Ivorian striker netted seven goals in 26 appearances.