Late Goal Sinks RailHawks in Semifinal’s First Leg.

BLAINE, Minn. – Like their last trip to the National Sports Center, the Carolina RailHawks were moments away from a scoreless draw only to see Minnesota score in the dying moments and deal them a heartbreaking defeat.

Minnesota’s Andrei Gotsmanov stole a goal in the 90th minute Saturday night to hand the RailHawks a 1-0 loss in the first leg of their NASL Semifinal series. They’ll meet in the return leg next Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park, where the RailHawks will need to win by two goals in order to win the series.

“I’m proud of the performance tonight. We did really well and dominated large parts of the game,” said RailHawks coach Martin Rennie. “It’s so disappointing to lose a goal at the end like that. But it’s 1-0 at halftime. We’re looking forward to taking the series back to WakeMed, and playing in front of our fans and having a chance to move on to the final.”

Gotsmanov’s goal came out of nowhere. The ball came in from the left side and the RailHawks won the first ball, but they were unable to clear it away. It fell to Gotsmanov, and with the sliver of space he had, he took a clever poke at the ball, sending it looping toward the far post, deftly over the outstretched arm of Carolina goalkeeper Brad Knighton.

On July 9, the last time the RailHawks visited the Stars, Minnesota forward Amani Walker poked the ball into the goal in stoppage time to give the RailHawks a 1-0 loss.

As is typically the case when the RailHawks and Stars meet, goals were not easy to come by, a testament to superlative efforts from both teams’ goalkeepers. Knighton had six saves, while Minnesota counterpart Joe Warren finished with seven.

Warren made two saves in the second half whose importance only intensified with the final result.

In the 67th minute, Carolina forward Pablo Campos dispossessed Minnesota defender Kyle Altman near midfield and played Jonny Steele into space. Steele broke in one-on-one with Warren, who charged off his line and turned away Steele’s try at goal.

In the 80th minute, Knighton’s punt got a boost from a gust of wind. When it came down, Matt Watson collected it behind the Minnesota defense and found himself one-on-one with Warren. But again, Warren flew off his line, eliminated the angle and kicked away Watson’s shot.

The RailHawks attacked with a flurry in the first half. In the 20th minute, Steele tried to curl in a shot from 18 yards, but it was just high.

In the 29th minute, Etienne Barbara’s cross found its way to Campos in front of the goal. Warren somehow got a hand on Campos’ point-blank try to keep the match scoreless.

Two minutes later, Barbara’s work on the right flank again nearly led to a goal. Barbara spotted Floyd Franks unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box, but Franks’ header went high.

Minnesota had its chances in the first half, too. In the fourth minute, Altman redirected Luke Mullholland’s free kick off the crossbar. In the 12th minute, Cristiano Dias’ header went high. In the 17th minute, Lucas Rodrigues’ one-time effort from 10-yards went high.

In the 75th minute, Knighton got low on Brian Cvilikas’ header from point-blank range to keep the match scoreless.

If the RailHawks are going to return to the championship final for a second straight season, they’ll have to beat Minnesota next weekend at WakeMed Soccer Park by two goals in order to win the aggregate goal series. A tall order, considering the RailHawks are now 0-2-3 against the Stars in 2011. However, en route to last season’s championship, they came back from Minnesota in the quarterfinals needing a win to advance. Despite an 0-1-2 record against the Stars prior to the return leg in 2010, the RailHawks got the job done with a 4-0 victory.

MINNESOTA 1, CAROLINA 0

LINEUPS

CAR: GK Brad Knighton, D Kupono Low (c), D Devon McKenney, D Gareth Evans, D Tyler Lassiter, M Floyd Franks, M Tony McManus, M Matt Watson, M Jonny Steele, F Pablo Campos, F Etienne Barbara
MIN: GK Joe Warren, D Just Davis, D Cristiano Dias, D Kyle Altman, D Brian Kallman, M Lucas Rodriguez, M Andrei Gotsmanov, M Neil Hlavaty, F Jeff Cosgriff (Simone Bracalello, 64), F Luke Mulholland (Anthony Hamilton, 85), F Brian Cvilikas

SCORING SUMMARY

MIN: Andrei Gotsmanov, 90

CAUTIONS

CAR: Devon McKenney, 45; Pablo Campos 67; Tony McManus, 76
MIN: Brian Cvilikas, 38; Andrei Gotsman, 56; Luke Mulholland, 76

SHOTS

CAR: 14
MIN: 12

FOULS

CAR: 18
MIN: 14

Attendance: 2,512

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