A stormy evening and a rain-soaked field did not deter the NSC Minnesota Stars from their mission Wednesday night. Needing a win to help secure their playoff bid, the Stars made a 37th minute goal by Devin Del Do stick and downed the visiting Carolina RailHawks 1-0. The Stars raise their season record to 9-12-7 and are now six points ahead of FC Tampa Bay and eight points ahead of AC St. Louis. Carolina fell to 10-9-8 and were unable to gain any ground on NASL Conference first place Vancouver Whitecaps. NSC Minnesota took the season series against Carolina, winning both games by an aggregate 3-0 score.
Heavy rains and lightning delayed the start of the match by more than an hour. The playing surface was marred by several large puddles, but the show must go on. After the teams finally kicked off, the Carolina RailHawks got into early trouble as defender Devon McKenny was ejected from the contest for a professional foul in the box. McKenney pulled down Devin Del Do as he closed on a ball in the box while RailHawks’ goalkeeper Nic Platter had slipped. The RailHawks did dodge a bullet, though, as Simone Bracalello missed the ensuing penalty kick, shooting over the crossbar. Still, the 19th minute ejection left the RailHawks shorthanded for most of the contest.
After Carolina’s Matt Watson forced Stars’ goalkeeper into a save at the half hour mark, a different kind of lightning struck at the 37 minute. Midfielder Del Do deflected a Lucas Rodriguez cross near goal, and on a slam-bang play, netted his first goal of the season. Del Do was only playing in his fifth game of the season after missing much of the season due to injury. Del Do had another opportunity late in the half, but his shot went wide.
In the second half, the breeze seemed to pick up although the rain slowed to a drizzle. Matt Watson again tested Joe Warren about five minutes after intermission, but his shot went straight at Warren, who secured the ball easily. That was the RailHawks only shot of the second half. The Stars played a lot of kick and chase as they were kicking into the wind, trying to find Bracalello up front, but the RailHawks’ physical defenders kept the Stars at bay. In the 80th minute, Carolina’s Amir Lowery flagrantly fouled the Stars Geison Moura from behind, and Lowery was shown a red card. Not the RailHawks night. Now Coach Martin Rennie will be missing both McKenny and Lowery for their Saturday match in Baltimore. NSC Minnesota had a few late opportunities to double the lead, but were unable to beat Platter, and the game ended 1-0, with Joe Warren recording his second straight clean sheet.
Although Wednesday night’s game wasn’t as well-played by the Stars as their Saturday win over AC St. Louis, the win was huge for the expansion club. ” We kind of knew it would be a strange night with the weather and the late start, but I thought the guys absorbed the adversity of the game, especially in the first half,” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said. With two wins in a row, the Stars have righted themselves as they look forward to their final home game this Saturday against Vancouver. Beating Carolina, one of the stronger teams in USSF D2, will give the Stars even more confidence against the Whitecaps.
Carolina now have been shut out in two consecutive matches, and the team with lots of scoring depth needs to regroup before its weekend encounter with Crystal Palace Baltimore. The RailHawks retain the fifth USSF D2 playoff spot, but are only two points ahead of the Puerto Rico Islanders and four ahead of the Montreal Impact.
Notes: Devin Del Do’s parents were on hand to witness their son’s first professional goal. Nice. With McKenney’s suspension and the season-ending ACL injury to RailHawks captain Mark Schulte, the RailHawks may be a bit thin on the backline when they face Crystal Palace Baltimore Saturday. Carolina goalkeeper Nic Platter was a long-time member of the Minnesota Thunder, and backed up tonight’s counterpart in the Stars’ goal, Joe Warren, when both were with the Thunder. After two seasons as understudy, Platter took over the starting goalkeeping role for the Thunder.
NSC Minnesota Starting Lineup: Warren, Lorenz, Clements, Arango, Altman, Takada, Rodgriguez, Gotsmanov, Del Do, Allen, Bracalello Subs Used: Moura, Tarley, Cvilikas
Carolina Staring Lineup: Platter, Woolard, Shields, McKenney, Low, Elenio, Watson, Lowery, Gardner, Franks, Russell Subs Used:Bobo, Heinemann, Paladini, Davidson