The last time the Carolina Railhawks lost at home, it was March 20th, 2013 against Liga MX powerhouse Pumas UNAM. Since then, the Railhawks have not lost in twelve contests at home, including wins over MLS sides LA Galaxy and Chivas USA. Is there something to explain this?
Well, to put it in perspective, the Railhawks’ record this year 11-5-6, with an amazing 0-3-5 record on the road. Yes, that’s right, the Railhawks, who have been at the top of the NASL table for most of the year, haven’t even won a game on the road. On the contrary, at home, they are 11-2-1. So, it is easy to see that there is something substantial about the Railhawks’ ability to win games at home. But is this specific to the Railhawks, or is it commonplace in the NASL to drop points on the road and to defend your turf at home?
In 2013, NASL teams are, not including friendlies, 31-19-17 at home. That’s a .463 win percentage. Compare that to Carolina’s home win percentage of .786, and it becomes clear that there is something special about WakeMed Soccer Park that leads to the Railhawks being a cut above the rest at home. Getting to the bottom of what exactly causes this gets trickier.
Carolina’s average attendance this year in the entirety of the 2013 NASL season (spring and fall) is 4651. This puts them in fifth place (fourth if you’re not counting the Cosmos) for the year in attendance. So as cool as it would be to have high attendance figures correlate to high home win percentage, that simply isn’t the case here. One might also think that it may be that the Railhawks know their surface better than most teams, and therefore they have an advantage there. Once again, this idea comes up short, considering the fact that the Railhawks play on arguably the best surface in the NASL. For a team to have an advantage surface-wise, it would make sense that the surface is poor and that the home team is used to the poor surface.
What is interesting, however, is how far the Railhawks have to travel on the road to go to games. Stuck awkwardly in the middle of NASL map, Carolina has to travel far south to play Atlanta, FTL, SAS and Tampa, but also has to travel far north to play MNU, NYC and FCE. The closest opponent Carolina has is 387 miles away against Atlanta. While it may not be the most statistically sound answer, players who have played for teams that have to travel long distances to play know that it does affect performance, and in soccer any sort of physical detriment is huge in one-on-one match ups all around the pitch. So, it is my opinion that the Railhawks do not rise up and play well at home, rather, they falter on the road. This has been a point of emphasis for coach Colin Clarke this fall campaign, because he knows just as well as anyone how differently the team plays on the road. It is figuring out why, and how to correct it, that will be the biggest challenge for Clarke in the race for the Soccer Bowl. If he and the team figure it out, they will surely be a lock for the 2013 NASL Championship.