CARY, N.C. - It was as if the script for Saturday night’s preseason meeting between the New England Revolution and Carolina RailHawks had been written ahead of time. As expected, hometown hero Zack Schilawski took on the starring role.
Of course – just like in the movies – the dramatic conclusion had to be set up with some twists and turns.
Pat Phelan – himself somewhat of a local star in Cary after a stellar four-year career at nearby Wake Forest University – scored late in the first half to give the Revolution a 1-0 lead heading into the break.
As if on cue, RailHawks defender Mark Schulte scored the game-tying goal in the 85th minute, setting up a tense finish at WakeMed Soccer Park.
That’s when Schilawski stepped into the spotlight.
In front of more than 3,000 local fans – including 60 friends and family members – the Cary native scored the game-winning goal in the 87th minute, sending the crowd at WakeMed Soccer Park into a frenzy. In celebration, Schilawski ran to join a group of green-clad Cary High School students who had parked themselves behind the net. It was almost as if he was preparing himself for future leaps into The Fort at his new home, Gillette Stadium.
After the game, Schilawski joked that perhaps the too-good-to-be-true result really had been pre-determined.
“I think it might’ve been fixed,” he quipped. “I’ve been a little bit lucky on this field – in the history of me playing here and tonight. I was just in the right spot at the right time. It felt great, though. I was glad to get it in for the fans.”
If he continues the form which saw him rise to the top of the Revolution’s preseason scoring charts when the regular season kicks off next weekend, he’ll quickly become a fan favorite. Schilawski – New England’s top draft pick in the 2010 SuperDraft at No. 9 overall – scored in each of the Revs’ last four preseason games and finished the five-game preseason schedule with four goals and one assist.
He was the center of attention throughout the Revolution’s 12-day preseason training trip to North Carolina, although it had more to do with his past than his present. Schilawski was born and raised in Cary, playing countless games at WakeMed Soccer Park throughout his club and high school career.
But the 22-year-old really made his mark at WakeMed Soccer Park during a record-breaking career at Wake Forest. In 2007 – his sophomore year – Schilawski scored the game-winning goal in the National Championship game against Ohio State, leading the Demon Deacons to a title on his hometown field.
With a promising professional soccer career beckoning, Schilawski was in high demand beginning the moment the Revs touched down in North Carolina almost two weeks ago. He had media obligations on an almost-daily basis and even spent one afternoon speaking to a group of elementary school children about exercise and healthy eating habits.
Schilawski handled the added pressure with poise beyond his 22 years. It’s a good thing, too, because he’ll undoubtedly be speaking with the media more and more in the regular season should he score as effortlessly as he did this preseason.
His first opportunity to score a regular-season goal will be next weekend on Saturday, March 27, when the Revs open the 2010 campaign on the road against the LA Galaxy at The Home Depot Center.
For now, Schilawski will be happy just to have the opportunity to play a professional soccer game.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “I really want to be in LA next week and get this thing started, so I’m excited.”