FC Tampa Bay Clinches NASL Playoff Spot with Win over Struggling Minnesota Stars
FC Tampa Bay 2-1 Minnesota Stars
The NSC Minnesota Stars entered into a rare Tuesday evening match in Blaine, Minn. at the NSC Stadium expecting a positive result. That’s not what they got. With Tuesday night’s match and a final home game on Saturday, the team needed points if they were to continue to fight for the 6th and final playoff spot.
The few that were in attendance for the game played on the evening of the first day of school for most Minnesota communities, were also hoping to see the Stars come out fighting for a playoff spot against 3rd place FC Tampa Bay. Stars head coach Manny Lagos felt the crowd did not get what they should have expected from his team.
“I apologize to the fans for the 1st half of play,” said a visibly frustrated Lagos after the game. “It’s time to be honest with the fans. From my perspective, from the club’s perspective, the effort in the first half was not acceptable. Any Minnesota fan should be angry.”
The first half performance that Lagos was talking about initially saw the Rowdies score on a play that was called off for offside. It wasn’t long afterward that Keith Savage scored Tampa’s first goal on a play that was far too easy for the Florida team. Tampa forward Aaron King penetrated the Stars defense dribbling deep and then crossing to the far post. The ball found the head of Savage who was left unattended and headed in at the 22nd minute mark.
Soon afterwards, Lagos subbed out first Lucas Rodriguez for new signing and former Rochester Rhinos player Anthony Hamilton and later Amani Walker for Scott Lorenz. The two first half substitutions were clearly a sign that Lagos was not happy with the play on the field.
“At this level, when you are only playing with 8 or 9 guys who are trying you are going to get exposed,” said Lagos. “We’re not playing well recently. We’re not finding ways to win. That’s hard on the team and it’s stressful. There’s a lack of confidence right now that I have in the team and I take full responsibility for that. We have to find a way to get a lineup out there that’s going to get a result. When your confidence is down you need to find players who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get a result and right now I’m having trouble finding that.”
Lagos evidently lit some fires in the locker room at half time as the team came out and played a much more inspired half. Minnesota equalized not long after the restart. Brian Kallman, who had a very good game at center back replacing team captain Kyle Altman who was sitting out of the match with a one game suspension for accumulated yellow cards, scored in the 51st minute. New Stars signing and 2011 USL PRO Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year candidate, Luke Mulholland, marked his debut and first start for the team by getting an assist on the play. He sent a driven ball just above the 6-yard box on a corner kick which found the head of Kallman. The Woodbury, Minn. native was making a run towards the near post, beat his mark and redirected the ball into the back of the net.
The Stars had plenty of pressure on Tampa goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, forcing him into several good saves. But all that was for naught as Minnesota’s Kentaro Takada, who was already sitting on a yellow card, made a rash challenge in the 76th minute that could have earned him a second yellow and a sending off. The ball was placed about 25 yards out and just to the right of goal. Mozzi Gyorio, who played well for Tampa throughout the game, stepped up and unleashed a wicked ball, then bent around the wall and hit the inside of the right post caroming into the back netting. The kick was so well placed Stars goalkeeper Joe Warren was unable to even make a move for the ball.
“It is a team game, and whomever the coaches have called upon, they are always ready to play,” said Gyorio. “It is about being a team player, and that’s why I think we have been so successful this year. We work together, show a lot of character and fight for one another.”
With the win FC Tampa Bay clinched a playoff spot in the NASL playoffs. FC Tampa Bay forward Mike Ambersley, who is tied for second in the league for goals scored (11) was pleased with the result and with locking in a playoff spot for the Rowdies.
“We got 2 goals tonight so I didn’t have to score but the important thing is we clinched a playoff spot,” said Ambersley. “It was a frustrating game but you’re on the road so you have to work hard, play ugly and get 3 points to get into the playoffs. We knew that coming in. When you come to Minnesota you always know you are going to have to work hard. They always play tough and work hard.”
The IMSoccer News Man of the Match was newcomer and former Wilmington Hammerhead forward Luke Mulholland, who played the full 90 minutes and did everything Manny Lagos had wanted him to do but score a goal, which he came close to doing several times. “He was very good – high quality,” said Lagos. “I was very pleased with his performance tonight.”
“As upset and bitter as I was about the fist half I thought we had an amazing second half and put up a valiant effort. Was it good enough to get the job done? By no means, but it’s something that gives me hope that we can still right the ship with three games left and can make the playoffs,” concluded Lagos.
FC Tampa Bay lineup: GK Jeff Attinella, D Frankie Sanfilippo (Captain), D Jeremy Christie (Shane Hill 89′), D David Hayes, D Takuya Yamada, M Chad Burt, M Mozzi Gyorio, M Keith Savage, M Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, F Mike Ambersley, F Aaron King (Kerry Baptiste 67′)
NSC Minnesota lineup: GK Joe Warren, D Justin Davis, D Cristiano Dias, D Chris Clements (Captain), D Brian Kallman, M Sandy Gbandi, M Kentaro Takada, M Scott Lorenz (Amani Walker 42′), M Luke Mulholland, F Lucas Rodriguez (Anthony Hamilton 29′), F Brian Cvilikas (Devin Del Do 80′)
FCTB: Keith Savage – 22nd minute (assisted by Aaron King)
MIN: Brian Kallman – 51st minute (assisted by Luke Mulholland)
FCTB: Mozzi Gyorio – 77th minute
MIN: Kentaro Takada – 67th minute
FCTB: 11 shots (5 on goal), 7 saves, 5 fouls, 4 offsides, 4 corners
MIN: 16 shots (8 on goal), 3 saves, 8 fouls, 1 offsides, 3 corners