In front of a record crowd of 10,125 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, West Ham drew the North Carolina RailHawks 2-2. For moments, the action was as exciting and as open as a competitive Premier League match. But only for those moments.
For the rest of the match, a short water break, a 30-minute lightning delay, and worst of all, an injury to Doneil Henry, slowed the pace of the game from first team quality back to the training ground.
With three goals in the first 20 minutes, the Hammers held a 2-1 lead over the RailHawks. North Carolina benefitted from a Winston Reid own goal, but the New Zealand international immediately redeemed himself by tucking away a chance at the other end of the pitch.
A major contributor to the first half quality was West Ham’s new signing Sofiane Feghouli. Hammers fans in North Carolina got a taste of what the Algerian winger brings to the team, with his pace and crossing from the right wing.
Feghouli beat his man down the right wing and sent in a low cross to Andy Carroll, who finished it past RailHawks keeper Akira Fitzgerald with ease.
Martin Samuelsen and Mark Noble were the only two Hammers to play the entire 90 minutes. Samuelsen nearly emulated his goal for Peterborough last season with inspired runs deep into North Carolina’s box. The 19-year-old’s fitness was on display as he tracked back to defend for the 10-man Hammers late in the game.
“This game is good, especially for the kids,” Slaven Bilic said. “It’s good experience for them, and then it’s good for us to see in the United States we have, so far away from home, so many fans.”
A light penalty, as Bilic described it, brought the match back to two apiece after the lightning delay. Lewis Page fell in the box and, in the opinion of the referee, deserved a yellow card for handling the ball.
West Ham’s USA Tour concludes following the draw to the RailHawks, but not without cost. While a better performance overall, Henry appeared to injure his lower right leg, leaving the match unable to put pressure on that foot. With no available substitutes on the bench, his absence left West Ham with ten men for nearly ten minutes. Captain Mark Noble filled in as an emergency centre-back.
Bilic confirmed that more information would be available in the morning, but that the injury “doesn’t look good.”
Despite Henry’s injury, the trip “was good especially because of the facilities. It was good in Seattle and here,” Bilic said.
“It was also good because of the hospitality of the people. I’d like to thank the staff from West Ham, most of the Seattle people, and the people here in North Carolina. They really made our stay here really like a working holiday.”
West Ham were the first Premier League team to visit the Triangle (Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill) in North Carolina, and the match was a spectacle for that reason. A five-plane flyover for the National Anthem and fireworks at the final whistle were added treats for the 10,125 in attendance.