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NSC Minnesota Hosts Carolina Tonight, Islanders Play Toluca in CONCACAF Champions League

In USSF D2 action Wednesday evening, the NSC Minnesota Stars will host the Carolina RailHawks at 7:00 pm CDT at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota.  The Stars are coming off a big 3-0 win last Saturday over AC St. Louis, while the RailHawks played a scoreless draw in their Saturday match at home against the Portland Timbers.  The Stars are holding onto the eight USSF D2 playoff position with 31 points, three more than FC Tampa Bay and five over AC St. Louis, although each has a game in hand.  The Stars and RailHawks have only met once, with the Stars winning 1-0 in Carolina on April 16.

A win tonight would create even more separation between the Stars and their expansion brethren, whereas a win for Carolina would clinch a playoff spot for the RailHawks and move them to within three points of the first place position in the NASL Conference, continually held by the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Big game for both teams.

The Stars played one of their best games of 2010 in St. Louis last Saturday.  Coming into the game without a win since July 10 and suffering three consecutive shutout losses, Coach Manny Lagos’ Stars exploded for three first half goals, led by Simone Bracalello’s brace.  Bracalello has four goals now on the season, one behind team leader Brian Cvilikas.  Daniel Wasson, who scored the winner against Carolina back in April, will miss tonight’s contest due to yellow card accumulation, but the Stars get Neil Hlavaty back, who had to sit out the AC St. Louis game.  Defender Kevin Friedland, who has missed the last several matches with a calf injury, will be unlikely to go tonight.

The big news for Carolina lately was the unfortunate loss of defender Mark Schulte, who is out for the season after suffering an ACL injury during a scrimmage.  Schulte is the team’s captain, and will be missed not only for the talent he brings to the field but for his leadership ability, also.  The RailHawks, however, do have veteran backliner Kupono Low back from injury, and Low has been able to go the full 90 minutes in the RailHawks last two matches.  Carolina also recently signed former Chicago Fire defender Daniel Woolard, who played the entire game against Portland. 

The RailHawks are tied for second in USSF D2 team scoring with Rochester, having netted 35 times, while being fourth in goals allowed.  The RailHawks have held opponents scoreless in their last two matches.  Former Minnesota Thunder goalkeeper Nic Platter has taken over the goalkeeping duties from Eric Reed over the last six games.  Tonight’s match will be a homecoming for Platter, who was signed by the Thunder in 2005, backing up current Stars’ keeper Joe Warren for two years before taking over the starting duties in the 2007 season.  Platter made 85 appearances for the Thunder.

Coach Martin Rennie’s team is led in scoring by striker Etienne Barbara with seven goals, followed by midfielder Daniel Paladini with six and Josh Gardner with five.  Not sure what Paladini’s status is for tonight….he only played 13 minutes Saturday against Portland in a substitute role.   Forward Tom Heinemann, signed by the RailHawks from the Charleston Battery following their USL-2 Championship win, has scored a goal and taken nine shots in his first two matches with Carolina. 

A result for the Stars would be huge, as they only have two games remaining after tonight, a home match with Vancouver and their final regular season game in Tampa.  Looking forward to watching tonight’s match – announcers Buzz Lagos and Chris Lidholm always do a great job on the Stars’ online streams.

Also tonight, the Puerto Rico Islanders resume group play in the CONCACAF Champions League.  They are tied for the Group D lead with Toluca, and play the co-leaders at Estadio Nemesio Diez in Toluca tonight.  Toluca FC, founded in 1917, have won ten Mexican Primera Division champions and have won the CONCACAF Champions Cup (the predecessor to the CONCACAF Champions League) twice, the last time being in 2003.  Los Diablos Rojos are in second place, behind Club America, in Group 2 of the current 2010 Apertura, with two wins, one loss and four draws. 

The Islanders are 9-9-9 in USSF D2 play this season and are currently holding the sixth playoff position.  After winning the Caribbean Football Union title this spring, the Islanders had a winless month of May in league play but are playing well now.  They eliminated the LA Galaxy in the preliminary round of the CCL to qualify for the group stage, and have one once and drawn once so far in the group stages.  Jamaican international forward Nicholas Addlery leads the team with four goals in CCL competition in 2010. 

Today is the date of the Bicentario in Mexico, the anniversary of its independence from Spain.  I have no idea how the celebrations will effect the crowd for the match in Toluca tonight, but for Colin Clarke’s Islanders to even gain a draw on the road would be a good result.  The Islanders have done a great job of representing D2.

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