2012: Colin Clarke’s Creation
As the defending regular season champions, the RailHawks finished the 2012 season in fourth place with a 10W-10D-8L record under the first year of Colin Clarke’s guidance.
The club had an impressive US Open Cup run. Carolina handed PSA Elite of the USASA a brutal 6-0 loss and MLS club Los Angeles Galaxy a 2-1 loss to earn their spot in the fourth round. After an early goal from Los Angeles, Tiyi Shipalane scored a late equalizer in the 75th minute. The South African footballer picked up an assist in the 88th minute when Brian Shriver netted the ball, effectively pulling off the upset.
They advanced to the fourth round to challenge MLS side Chivas USA where they eventually fell in a close 2-1 match.
It was Shriver’s first year with the club after the University of North Carolina alum left for a brief stint with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Nick Zimmerman led the team in scoring in 2012 with an impressive 15 goals, making the NASL Team of the Year, while Ray Burse found success in net with six clean sheets.
The RailHawks signed a pair of former Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Austin da Luz and Zack Schilawski. On April 4, da Luz came from the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United of MLS.
On April 27, Carolina also signed Cary, N.C. local Schilawski, who was coming from the New England Revolution of MLS. Schilawski was a RailHawks product, having also previously played with the RailHawks U23’s.
The RailHawks made it to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row where they eliminated the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Sept. 29 in the Quarterfinals with a 3-1 win.
Carolina was then eliminated in the semifinals of the playoffs by one goal in the aggregate series, as the Tampa Bay Rowdies outscored the RailHawks, overall, with a 2-1 Rowdies win on Oct. 6 at WakeMed Soccer Park and a 3-3 draw in Florida on Oct. 13.
2013: Akira Fitzgerald Takes Hold
The RailHawks finished in second place in both the Spring and Fall Seasons with a 12W-12D-7L record, however, NASL format did not include the playoffs this year.
No stranger to a deep Open Cup run, the RailHawks made another appearance in the Quarterfinals. Carolina upset two MLS teams on the way, both LA Galaxy and Chivas USA.
In the May 29 win over Los Angeles, the RailHawks blanked the Galaxy at WakeMed Soccer Park in front of 8,121 fans, with a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Tiyi Shipalane and Austin da Luz.
The RailHawks then knocked off Chivas USA at WakeMed Soccer Park on June 12 with a 3-1 win, as Shipalane tallied another Open Cup goal, and Brian Ackley and César Elizondo added on.
Carolina’s elimination came on June 26 with an away loss to Real Salt Lake of MLS, the eventual runner-up of the competition.
Akira Fitzgerald took his position as the club’s starting goalkeeper, leading the team in shutouts.
Brian Shriver led the league with 15 goals, earning himself a spot on the 2013 NASL Team of the Year and winning the NASL Golden Boot for scoring the most goals in the league.
2014: Upset Artists
The NASL introduced The Championship playoff format this year, with the Spring Season and Fall Season winners earning a spot, as well as the following two clubs with the best combined record. With a 11W-5D-11L record, the RailHawks finished the year in 5th place in the combined standings.
Though Carolina did not participate in the playoffs, the club made it to the Quarterfinals of the Open Cup again, eliminating the Charlotte Eagles, and both the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA for a third and second time respectively.
The club also won its two exhibition matches, serving both the United States U-20 team and Mexican team Puebla F.C. 2-1 losses at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Zack Schilawski, who joined the club in 2012, led the team with 11 goals and Akira Fitzgerald remained staunch in net, leading the team in shutouts.
Midfielder Nazmi Albadawi joined the RailHawks this season after graduating from North Carolina State University. He netted his first goal in the club’s 2-0 win over the Charlotte Eagles in the second round of the Open Cup. Albadawi was named NASL Player of the Week for his goal and assist in the RailHawks’ 3-1 win over the San Antonio Scorpions.
Staunch defender Connor Tobin also joined the team this year from Minnesota United FC. The RailHawks bolstered their offesne by signing the Spanish Nacho Novo.
2015: The End of an Era
The RailHawks finished the Spring Season in 3rd place, putting themselves in good position for the Fall Season; however, a 7th place Fall Season finish landed the club a 6th place overall spot in the standings. Carolina played to a 9W-8D-13L record.
Nacho Novo led the team in offensive production with 11 goals and Akira Fitzgerald once again led the club’s goalkeeping, with four clean sheets.
WakeMed Soccer Park was visited by a new club, as Seoul E-Land FC visited from South Korea for an exhibition match. The RailHawks picked up an exciting win via a 5-4 advantage in penalties.
The RailHawks did not perform as per usual in the Open Cup, as they suffered a 1-0 loss to the Charlotte Independence in the Third Round.
The club saw a change in ownership this year as local owner Steve Malik took over the team from Traffic Sports.