The NSC Minnesota Stars finished their regular season on a high note Friday, beating FC Tampa Bay on their home field, 3-1. Before 3,000 fans at George M Steinbrenner Field, the Stars raised their record to 11-12-7, and at least for now have the sixth playoff position to themselves. Montreal trails the Stars by three points with two matches left, while the Puerto Rico Islanders are four points behind with two games left. The Stars also ruined the Rowdies’ coaching debut of Perry Van Der Beck, who is leading the team on an interim basis following the departure of Paul Dalglish. The Rowdies fell to 6-12-11 with one match remaining.
The Stars went to work early, scoring in the 14th minute on the first goal of the season by midfielder Lucas Rodriguez. The Stars doubled their lead in the 39th minute, as striker Simone Bracalello found the back of the net for the fifth time in 2010, and the boys from up North added insult to injury when Kentaro Takada scored his first goal of the year right before intermission. Devin Del Do, who scored the winning goal in the Stars’ two previous wins, assisted on the Bracalello and Takada goals.
The Rowdies were able to get on the scoreboard in the 73rd minute as Chivas USA loanee Maykel Galindo scored for the second time in his ninth game with the Rowdies. Despite eighteen shots and forcing six saves from Stars’ goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel, Galindo’s goal was the only time that Van Oekel was beaten. The Stars managed twelve shots against the Rowdies Daryl Sattler, who was back between the posts after several starts by teenager Josh Lambo.
Manny Lagos’ Stars are in a great place heading into the playoffs. The team is relatively healthy and will have ten days or so off before the playoffs begin. Lagos has found an effective strike team in Bracalello and Del Do, who returned from injury a few weeks back after missing the bulk of the season. The defense is playing very well, and veteran keeper Joe Warren got a rest tonight with Van Oekel starting. Lagos also got striker Brian Cvilikas and midfielder Neil Hlavaty onto the pitch for a half tonight. Both are proven goal-scorers who have also shown the ability to come into a game in the latter stages and change the result.
As recently as Labor Day Weekend, the Stars looked listless coming off three consecutive shutout losses. Now, they look primed for a playoff run. Manny Lagos’ men have turned things around, and although they won’t be favorites to win the playoffs, they certainly are a strong, dark-horse candidate. With their strikeforce revitalized and deep, the defense playing extremely well, a veteran goalkeeper and a backup goalie who’s gotten six games of experience during the regular season, what’s not to like? They have momentum and will have the luxury of a long break before the playoffs start, something no other playoff team will have. I’m looking forward to seeing how they perform in the post-season.
FC Tampa Bay has seen what looked like a very promising season back in April and May turn into disappointment. The Rowdies were 5-1-3 at the end of May, but have only won once since then. Injuries have played a part, but the team wasn’t able to build on the foundation laid early on, as defensive problems kept them from getting wins. Still, their fans have stayed loyal and there will be a lot of optimism going into 2011 for this young and talented team.
FC Tampa Bay Starting Lineup: Sattler, Valentino, Valentin, Morrow, Yamada, Sanchez, Millien, Gyorio, Christie, Burt, King Subs Used: Nyazamba, Galindo, Tan
NSC Minnesota Starting Lineup: Van Oekel, Lorenz, Kallman, Arango, Altman, Wasson, Takada, Rodriguez, Del Do, Allen, Bracalello Subs Used: Cvilikas, Gotsmanov, Hlavaty, Granum
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