Many Positives to be Drawn from Minnesota Stars 0-0 Tie with Carolina RailHawks
The Minnesota Stars played the Carolina RailHawks to a 0-0 draw on Saturday evening at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis in front of crowd of 8,693.
That attendance number is the largest in the Stars 3-year existence. It’s also one of the largest crowds in the 23-consecutive-year history of pro soccer in Minnesota split between the Thunder and the current team the Stars.
Even though the Minnesota managed to gain just a point in their game against the RailHawks, the match carried many positives for both the Stars’ organization and their supporters.
Before the match, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak took the field and asked Minnesota fans, “What’s a RailHawk?” to pump up the crowd. Rybak also told the fans he had declared April 7 a day in honor of the Minnesota Stars.
After last year’s NASL Championship run that saw the Dark Cloud supporters numbers draw up to 200 or more for matches, the supporters group went to work to draw new members to its ranks and form partnerships with businesses.
The Dark Clouds were honored by the team with the recent unveiling on their away jersey. Then on Saturday evening the Stars again honored and thanked the Dark Clouds by having members Bruce McGuire and Ben Pfutzenreuter carry out the NASL Championship SoccerBowl trophy to lead the teams out of the tunnel and onto the field.
Before the match, the hundreds in the Dark Clouds supporters group, situated behind the Carolina goal, unfurled a 4 piece 1,200 square foot set of banners that displayed the Minneapolis skyline with the Metrodome prominent and a star rising from it. The banners also carried the Stars FC name and the Minnesota State motto, L’etoile du Nord (Star of the North).
The presentation of the trophy to the Stars and their fans and the large crowds all must have inspired the team as they took little time to show Carolina they would be playing a high pressure defense, pressing up the field and moving the ball quickly.
A couple of the Stars’ best chances happened in succession in the 11th minute of play. First Stars midfielder Kentaro Takada saw his shot from 20 yards out go just inches wide of the net. Within 30 seconds of the goal kick Minnesota was pressing again. This time Stars rookie outside midfielder Miguel Ibarra made one of many slashing runs down the right side and played a good cross into Amani Walker, who redirected the cross at the goal only to see it carom off the upright.
The team continued to press and saw Stars forward Simone Bracalello head a Justin Davis cross to the far left post. But RailHawks goalkeeper Ray Burse, who in the offseason moved from the Puerto Rico Islanders to Carolina with his coach Colin Clarke, made one of his 8 stops on the night with a one-handed reaction lunge.
In the 43rd minute Walker tried his luck again, this time from 20 yards out as the RailHawks failed to close him down. With the opportunity, Walker hit a hard ball low to the right post which forced Burse into another diving punch to keep the ball out of his net.
At the end of the half the Stars had outshot Carolina 10-1.
The Stars continued to create chances in the second half with perhaps their best one coming in the 58th minute when left midfielder Lucas Rodriguez played a ball in to Bracalello. The forward gathered the ball and turned in one motion but shot just wide of the right post from 18 yards out.
In the 63rd minute Ibarra made another speedy foray down the right side, this time threading the ball square through traffic to Bracalello. The Italian forward blasted a shot that forced Burse to tip over over the bar.
Just a minute later central defender Kyle Altman received a cross to the left post and clearly had his defender and Burse beaten. But the Stars captain headed over the bar from only 8 yards out.
In the 70th minute Rodriquez got tripped up in the box and center referee Terry Vaughn called the RailHawks for a penalty. The sure-footed Neil Hlavaty who was the Stars’ go-to man for spot kicks last year, stepped up and drilled his shot high over the bar and into the stands which seemed fitting to the team’s run of luck or lack thereof.
The Stars seemed to struggle in the final 15 minutes, looking tired and finding clear-cut chances harder to come by.
In the end, the game ended in a 0-0 draw with Minnesota outshooting Carolina 20-2 and nothing but one point to show for it. Still, there seemed to be plenty of positives to be pulled out of Saturday’s home draw against the RailHawks. Minnesota controlled both the tempo as well as the bulk of possession and played a very speedy, high pressure style of play.
“I thought we did really good today,” said forward Simone Bracalello who was icing his groin after the game, having pulled it just minutes into the second half. “We haven’t really played very many matches together and we showed tonight that we can really play good up top and also in the defense. A lot of passes and not a lot of long ball. It’s what I like. But the ball just wouldn’t go in. It’s just part of the game. I think we were just a little unlucky today.”
Stars head coach Manny Lagos seemed to echo some of those sentiments. “It’s a team we know very well and have battled against for many, many games so you can’t help feel a bit proud for the guys. There was some series intensity there. When they walked off the field they should have their heads held high. I think they did everything but get the 3 points tonight.”
“There were a number of positives,” continued Lagos. “The work rate, the effort, the way the guys tried to play good soccer, tried to create chances and tried to limit Carolina’s chances was all very encouraging. On the other hand not getting a goal really hurt us. It’s a cruel sport sometimes. That’s why people become so emotionally invested in the sport. Everything should have gone our way and some times it doesn’t. The big thing will now be to see how we play next week after playing well tonight and dropping 2 points.”
“The last 10 or 15 minutes we were a little fatigued being the first game,” said left back Justin Davis who worked hard up and down the touch line all night long. “But I was also trying to get forward a bit more in the last 10 because we were trying to get a goal. No one wants to come out and see a tie. But 20-2 in shots is disappointing – to not get a win. Defensively I thought we were pretty good for the first game.”
Carolina head coach Colin Clarke said the statistics really don’t account for much as was proved Saturday evening. “It’s not all about shots,” said Clarke. “They had their chances – missed a penalty. We should have had a penalty but the ref doesn’t give it. We always knew it was going to be hard coming in here playing indoors on a so-so surface. It’s tough when you’ve trained all preseason long on grass that is quality and then you have to come in and play on turf. But full credit to Minnesota who put us under pressure like I knew they’d do, with their home opener and a big crowd. We just weren’t good enough with the ball in the final third tonight.
“It’s the first game of the season and we still have a long way to go with lots of things to do to get better. But we were away from home and the players got a clean sheet and a point so we’ll take it,” said Clarke with a slight grin on his face. “Ray Burse was outstanding.”
Rookie Miguel Ibarra chosen as the Brit’s Pub/IMSoccer News – Minnesota Stars FC Man of the Match
Even though he was playing in the Metrodome in front of over 8,000 fans, rookie Miguel Ibarra, who just finished his senior season at UC Irvine last fall, said he wasn’t really that nervous going into his first pro game as tried to prepare for it as if it were any other game.
“I just wanted to help the team get a win,” said Ibarra. “I thought we played well for our first game. I think I could have done more offensively, scored or given an assist. I was going back defensively and tried to work hard for the team.
Ibarra, who said speed is one of his best assets, loves to use that ability to get into open space and then go one-on-one against the opposition. “With Brian (Kallman) behind me, he’s a really good right back. So that allows me to push more into the middle and he can then attack more on the right side. Neil (Hlavaty) and Taka (Kentaro Takada) work really hard next to me on the side. I just think as the season goes on we are going to just get better as I get to know their styles of play.”
Ibarra will receive a $50.00 gift certificate from Brit’s Pub and Eating Establishment for being chosen the Brit’s Pub/IMSoccer News – Minnesota Stars FC Man of the Match
The Stars now go on the road for 3 games and the rest of April to play the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, FC Edmonton and the Atlanta Silverbacks before returning home to play at the National Sports Center on May 5th when they will take on the Atlanta Silverbacks.