New England Soccer Today

You Can Go Home Again

Zack Schilawski (left) celebrates with teammate Nick Zimmerman during a 2-0 win over FC Edmonton on Jun. 23. (Photo: Carolina RailHawks)

CARY, N.C. – The flood lights may not be as bright as those at Gillette Stadium, and the supporters may not be as boisterous as they are in The Fort. That, of course, is to be expected.

But one thing’s for sure: Former Revolution forward Zack Schilawski has no complaints about playing in the same town he grew up in. Even if that means that not playing in MLS at the moment.

As a member of the Carolina Railhawks (NASL), Schilawski is one of many second-division players hoping to return to first division soccer. Yet, unlike many of his peers, the former Wake Forest product gets to chase his dream in his own backyard.

“It’s awesome,” said the Cary native following Saturday’s 3-2 win over FC Edmonton – a game in which he scored the second Carolina goal. “I’ve got my friends and family here at every game. It’s a great place and it’s been a blast.”

Of course, the picture wasn’t as promising less than six months ago.

After doing all he could to impress his new boss, Jay Heaps, Schilawski hoped that he’d done enough to earn a spot on the First Kick roster.

And after sticking around throughout the Revolution’s preseason schedule, it looked as if he’d made it. But less than a week before the season opener, the club parted ways with their former first round pick.

“It was kind of a worst-case scenario,” Schilawski said. “If you’re going to get let go, it’s better early than late. They let me go at a time when all of the other MLS rosters were full.”

The timing may not have been favorable for the suddenly-unemployed striker. Even so, that didn’t deter him from look ahead to his next opportunity.

Following his release, Schilawski landed a trial with the Chicago Fire. He spent about a month training with the squad, but with the roster full, it was ultimately a dead end.

Although the opportunity wasn’t there in the Windy City, Schilawski stayed in touch with one of his former youth coaches back home – RailHawks assistant coach Dewan Bader, who encouraged him throughout the job hunt.

“He told me to chase my dream,” Schilawski said. “And if it didn’t work out, I could come home and play here.”

And that’s exactly what Schilawski did. On April 27th, the native son signed with the RailHawks and according to head coach Colin Clarke, it’s been a win/win situation for all parties.

“Zack has been a big energy all year,” Clarke said. “He always gives 100% and works hard.”

That work rate has translated on the field this season. Through 18 games, Schilawski has netted six goals, including a pair of strikes in U.S. Open Cup competition.

Clarke believes that if his striker can collect a few more goals in the team’s last seven games, it may not be long before Schilawski is back in MLS.

“The one thing that’s probably been the knock on him is scoring goals,” Clarke said. “And now he’s starting to score. If he can get that part of his game right, then he’s going to do alright at the next level and beyond.”

Schilawski admits it’s not easy to jump right in to a new league and find immediate success. It may not be top-flight soccer, but he credits his teammates for helping him transition into NASL.

“It’s a different game, for sure,” Schilawski said. “It’s been a lot of fun. The guys here have been great in helping me getting acclimated to it.”

Yes, Zack Schilawski is in a good place right now. In fact, he’ll be the first to say that WakeMed Soccer Park is one of the best places to play in NASL, given the modern training facilities and practice fields – the same facilities which have hosted both U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team training camps in the past.

But contentment shouldn’t be confused with complacency.

He’s well aware of the fact that the goal isn’t to remain in NASL. The objective he brought with him to Foxboro as a rookie still remains at the forefront – but with a bit of hint of added urgency.

“You have to keep getting better every day,” Schilawski said. “You got let go for a reason so you have to try to work on things and really meet those challenges. You may only get one chance to get back up (to MLS) and if you do, you have to take advantage of it.”

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