The 2010 USSF D2 season just keeps getting better and better as the season winds down and teams battle for playoff spots. On Saturday night, expansion teams strutted their stuff as AC St. Louis scored a dramatic, last minute win over the high-octane Austin Aztex, while fellow expansion club and Mississippi River rivals NSC Minnesota moved up to the sixth spot in the playoff rankings by claiming their third shutout win in a row, downing the NASL Conference leading Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0. We’ll examine Portland’s win over Puerto Rico and Carolina’s rebound victory over Crystal Palace Baltimore in a later post.
Luis Gil Nets Winner for AC St. Louis
AC St. Louis regained their mojo in their most dramatic win of the season, as 16 year-old Luis Gil scored his first professional goal in stoppage time to give the Saints a 2-1 win over the high-flying Austin Aztex. The victory tied AC St. Louis with FC Tampa Bay at 29 points, five behind the Montreal Impact, who now hold the final playoff spot after NSC Minnesota slipped past them.
Having played Thursday evening in Tampa, Austin Coach Adrian Heath revamped his starting lineup for Saturday’s match, giving a breather to regulars Maxwell Griffin, Jamie Watson, Kevin Sakuda and goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo. Sean Kelley made his first 2010 appearance replacing Gallardo, and Randi Patterson, Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, Tyler Hemming and Mechack Jerome joined him as starters against AC St. Louis.
Both teams had opportunities in the scoreless first half of a very humid evening at AB Soccer Park. AC St. Louis had a chance sail over the Aztex’ goal in the first five minutes, and USSF D2 scoring star Eddie Johnson of the Aztex headed a ball a few minutes later that AC St. Louis goalkeeper Alec Dufty handled. The Austin attack was geared towards feeding Johnson the ball, as both Patterson and Yoshitake worked hard to get the Aztex attack in gear. The best chance of the first half fell to the foot of the Saints’ Mike Ambersley, who scorched a 30-yard shot off the Aztex crossbar near the half hour mark.
It took a rookie to break the deadlock. Near the hour mark, winger Brad Stisser of AC St. Louis got into box and converted a pass from fellow rookie winger Chris Salvaggione to give AC St. Louis a 1-0 lead. Stisser’s third goal of the season brought the crowd of over 2,600 to its feet. But Adrian Heath had plenty of offensive talent on his bench, as he brought in Maxwell Griffin, who’s scored eight goals, Jamie Watson who’s scored seven, and playmaking midfielder Sullivan Silva. As an AC St. Louis fan, I had a sinking feeling.
But the Saints held on. Coach Dale Schilly brought in Luis Gil when Stisser was stretchered off the field, and Gil played upfront, harassing Austin’s defenders when they had the ball. Mindful of the young Saints’ penchant for surrendering late goals, the minutes clicked away much too slowly .As the game moved into stoppage time, history repeated itself and Eddie Johnson lasered a shot past Dufty to tie the score. All the good work done by Dufty and the backline of Jack Traynor and rookies Mark Bloom and Zach Bauer seemed to go to waste as with very little stoppage time remaining, the game looked to end as a draw.
But, for AC St. Louis, history was made anew. With time running out, veteran Luke Kreamalmeyer found Luis Gil and the teenaged Californian beat Kelley to win the game. Gil’s first professional goal coincided with the Saints’ first come from behind victory, and the crowd erupted as disappointment turned to joy instantly. A great comeback win for the St. Louisans and Coach Dale Schilly over the best team in USSF D2. For Coach Heath and the Aztex, they will quickly have a chance to avenge the tough loss as they host AC St. Louis next Saturday at House Park. And they remain only a point behind Rochester for the best record in USSF D2 with a game in hand over the Rhinos. Quite an accomplishment for a team that won just five games in 2009.
NSC Minnesota Keeps on Rolling as New Hero Devin Del Do Nets Another Game Winning Goal
Upriver in Blaine, Minnesota, the expansion Stars took a huge step in securing a playoff berth by beating Vancouver 1-0 Saturday night. The win brought the Stars’ season mark to 10-12-7 and boosted them past Puerto Rico and Montreal into the sixth USSF D2 playoff berth heading into their season finale against FC Tampa Bay next Saturday.
As was the case on Wednesday night in the Stars’ win over Carolina, midfielder Del Do scored the only game of the match. What a lift he’s brought to Manny Lagos’ side. The young Californian was signed by the Stars based on his performance at the team’s open tryout. Having missed most of the season with injury, the University of California-Northridge product made only his sixth appearance for the Stars Saturday night. Someone needs to get a wikipedia article up on this young man pronto.
Del Do’s goal came after a scoreless first half. Shortly after intermission, Del Do scored into an empty net as Vancouver’s outstanding goalkeeper Jay Nolly was left hung out to dry from a Simone Bracalello shot that had rebounded off the post. Del Do’s second game-winning goal in four days lengthened the Stars’ winning streak to three games as veteran Stars’ goalkeeper Joe Warren recorded another clean sheet. Bracalello was the hero in the first win of the Stars’ streak, hitting a brace against AC St. Louis.
Of course, it takes more than two players’ contributions to win games, and Stars’ Coach Manny Lagos has the team’s defense fine-tuned lately. “The shape has been outstanding the past three games,” Lagos said. “We’re also recovering well when we lose the ball, and the overlap between the midfield and defense has been strong.” After suffering three consecutive shutout losses that made the Stars’ playoff chances seem unlikely, the team has totally turned things around. What makes the turnaround even more commendable is that the Stars have been without veteran defender Kevin Friedland recently, who is out with injury.
Vancouver’s loss leaves Teitur Thordarson’s Whitecaps still in first place, although their lead over the Carolina RailHawks has dwindled to only three points. The Whitecaps have already clinched a playoff spot, however, but need to figure out their on-again off-again finishing. Roster turnover, especially in the midfield and forward positions, seems to have doomed the Whitecaps’ attack to an inconsistent pattern in 2010 as the team auditions players for its 2011 MLS season. If Coach Thordarson can the ‘Caps attack purring even half as well as he has done with the team’s league-leading defense, Vancouver will be very tough to beat come playoff time.
Notes: Vancouver was held to four shots by the Stars, but were unlucky not to score as youngster Alex Elliott missed a golden opportunity in first half stoppage time. NSC Minnesota has only one game left in the regular season — next Friday’s duel with FC Tampa Bay. Eddie Johnson’s late goal for the Aztex was his fourteenth of the season. The former junior player at Manchester United is only one goal behind USSF D2 leading goal scorer Ryan Pore. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting US Women’s National Team star Lori Chalupny at the ACSTL-Austin game. What a classy individual !!! Don’t forget Sunday afternoon’s matchup between Montreal and FC Tampa Bay. Should be a good one.
AC St. Louis Starting Lineup: Dufty, Traynor, Bloom, Bauer, Videira, Kreamalmeyer, Gauchinho, Cole, Stisser, Salvaggione, Ambersley Subs Used: Gil, O’Garro, Velten
Austin Starting Lineup: Kelley, Needham, Jerome, L.Griffin, Bernard, Yoshitake, L. Watson, Hemming, Alvarez, Patterson, Johnson Subs Used: J. Watson, M.Griffin, Silva, Sakuda
NSC Minnesota Starting Lineup: Warren, Lorenz, Clements, Arango, Altman, Wasson, Takada, Rodriguez, Del Do, Bracalello, Allen
Vancouver Starting Lineup: Nolly, Knight, Janicki, Forko, Bellisomo, Wagner, Nash, Elliott, Dunfield, Edwini-Bonsu, Arnoux Subs Used: Mobulu, Davies, McDonald, Morfaw, Tsiskaridze
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