Minnesota Stars FC Take the Money and Run Over Real Salt Lake
In front of 17,212 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City, the visiting Minnesota Stars of the NASL (D2) defeated MLS side Real Salt Lake by a score of 3-1 on Tuesday night in the 3rd round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup competition.
The Stars had won the rights to host this third round game. But RSL GM Bill Manning made a pitch to Minnesota Stars CEO Djorn Buchholz to purchase the hosting rights. Manning said he wanted to prioritize the USOC this year and by hosting it would cut down on the amount of travel and fatigue his team would have to go through.
The amount of money was significant and eventually the league-owned, cash-strapped Stars agreed to sell the hosting rights as long as plane fares were taken care of and a guarantee would be made that RSL would live stream the game for Minnesota fans.
So the victory for the Stars and their fans was bittersweet as many Minnesota supporters were tweeting with the hashtag: #TakeTheMoneyAndRun.
The Stars actually entered into the game with more rested starters than RSL who had played on Saturday, defeating Dallas at home 3-2 with the wining goal coming in extra-time. Added to that were injuries to Javier Morales and Chris Schuler that kept them out of the lineup and Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman, Will Johnson and Alvaro Saborio were all missing as they were representing their countries for national team duties.
Stars coach Manny Lagos had rested most of his starters giving his bench players minutes in Tampa on Friday night where they hammered out a 0-0 draw with the Rowdies.
So it was no surprise that the Stars, who seem to be brimming with confidence as of late, came out brightly in this match. In fact it took only 4 minutes before Minnesota got on the board with a Kevin Venegas goal. Jonny Steele had committed a foul on the left touchline. Neil Hlavaty stepped up to take the kick and placed a hard driven cross to the far post that found the head of Venegas. The rookie right midfielder jumped high and nodded the ball back across the goal and over the top of RSL goalkeeper Kyle Reynish to take the lead.
Just a few minutes later the Stars tried to make it 2-0 when defender Brian Kallman’s hard dipping shot made Reynish spill the ball. Stars forward Amani Walker picked up the rebound at the far post but his angle was too acute causing him to cross the ball that rolled helplessly out of play.
The Stars sustained good pressure on RSL and after 20 minutes the Stars had the majority of possession.
But not long after RSL had a few chances of their own. Emiliano Bonfigli found himself in front of the Stars goal and unmarked. But the RSL forward took a bit too long and Kallman snuck in to knock the ball away.
Kallman played the hero for the Stars a moment later when a ball was swung into the box, but the veteran defender cleared the ball out of danger for Minnesota.
In the 30th minute RSL’s Ned Grabavoy took an early free kick awarded to his team just outside the Stars box. He laid the ball off to Luis Gil who was not marked. Gil teed the ball up and took a shot from distance that powered past Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel, drawing the game even 1-1.
Real Salt Lake continued the pressure and caused VanOekel to make his finest saves of the night that kept Minnesota from going down a goal. Paulo Jr. dribbled in on the Stars keeper and shot point blank and VanOekel blocked the ball. The rebound went to Grabavoy who tried to clean up the rebound. But again VanOekel was up for the challenge, leaping high and tipping the ball over the crossbar for a double save in the 37th minute.
The Stars also had a nice chance in the 42nd minute when Venegas combined with Justin Davis in the box. But neither player was able to find the space to shoot.
A minute later the Stars target forward Amani Walker jumped for a ball and rolled his ankle. After laying on the ground he got himself up but looked as if he would need to leave the game.
A few minutes later a long ball was played into Walker from strike partner Martin Nunez. Walker made a gimpy 20-yard run into the box. He cut the ball back but his ankle did him no good as he found the ball hung up under his legs. Without many options, Walker kicked the ball to cross it but instead it hit the arm of RSL defender Jamison Olave. Referee Tyler Ploeger pointed to the spot and awarded Minnesota the penalty kick. The Stars’ Hlavaty stepped up and slammed the ball home going left on Reynish and putting Minnesota up 2-1.
As the halftime whistle blew, fans at RSL’s Rio Tinto could be heard booing their home side as they walked off the field.
Two substitutes were made at half, one for each team. Tony Beltran came in for Terukazu Tanaka and Simone Bracalello replaced the injured Walker.
In the 52nd minute RSL came close again if not for VanOekel. Bonfigli was fed a ball but the Stars keeper once again denied the forward.
Paulo Junior found himself unmarked with the ball and in front of goal. But instead of pulling the trigger he waited too long and was shut down by the Stars defense.
In the 58th minute the Stars seemed to put the game out of reach when Kallman hit a long cross from the right side into an awaiting Bracalello. The Stars forward slotted the ball home for the 3rd Minnesota goal of the night.
The Stars dodged another bullet in the 67th minute when RSL was awarded a corner kick. The ball found the head of Olave, but the RSL defender nodded it over the bar.
Chances came and went for RSL with a Borchers close range miss and Jonny Steele grazing the upright. But the Stars defense prevailed with a 3-1 victory over the MLS side.
“I’m embarrassed right now, to be honest with you,” said RSL defender Nat Borchers. “I can handle mistakes. I can handle missed chances, bad passes, mistakes defensively. I can’t handle when we don’t go out and try. We don’t go out and fight. We gave up in the last 15 minutes.”
“I think scoring in the 4th minute helped us out a lot,” said Hlavaty. “I think it gave us the extra bit of confidence to push us over the top. I think a lot of it has to do with our locker room situation. Everyone on the team is pretty content with each other. We all know that there’s going to be different people stepping up at different moments. That’s what happened last Friday in Tampa. We had different people who hadn’t even played before make their debuts and get a good result. So then tonight we were ready with guys who were fresh and ready to play. ”
“I’m really proud of the guys,” said head coach Manny Lagos. “We went into a very hostile environment which is one of the hardest places to play in MLS and there were over 17,000 people here tonight. They push the tempo and dictate the play. But I think our guys had a nice way of approaching the game and said, you’re not going to get anything from us and in fact we are going to try to play some attacking soccer. I think that was the difference in the game where we took the moment away from them.”
With the win, the Stars booked a date next Tuesday with another Major League Soccer side, the San Jose Earthquakes, who sit just two points behind Real Salt Lake in the MLS Western Conference standings. That match is scheduled for next Tuesday at Stanford University’s Laird Q. Cagan Stadium.