Minnesota Stars Take First Home Loss of Season to Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Minnesota Stars were glad to be home after a month of being on the road. But they were not able to shake their recent poor run of form and were defeated by the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 on Saturday night in front of 2,908 fans at the NSC Stadium.
“It’s our second consecutive league loss this year and our first home loss of the season. It’s incredibly disappointing,” said a frustrated Stars head coach Manny Lagos, who was seen after the game standing by himself at midfield. “We could have played better tonight. There’s no two ways about it. Maybe the early goal actually took us out of our rhythm a bit. Give credit to Tampa. I thought they did a good job of moving the ball and making it hard for us. We did have moments where I thought we looked good. But we had other moments were I was extremely disappointed with the guys.”
The early goal was scored by Martin Nunez, his first wearing the Stars uniform and it was in the run of play as Minnesota looked sharp in the opening minutes.
In the 9th minute Nunez, who started at forward with Simone Bracalello, received a ball on the top left side of the box. Nunez brought the ball deep, fighting off Rowdies defender Daniel Scott, and then cut it back up field. He twisted again and went back to the goal line, beating Scott and Takuya Yamada and then fired a very tight angle shot from 6 yards out. The blast was on target and squeezed between the post and Tampa goalkeeper Jeff Attinella.
The goal was the last for the Stars even though the two teams both had chances in the first half with Minnesota taking 6 shots and forcing 2 great saves from Attinella.
In the 35th minute Tampa was awarded a corner kick. Former Stars player Luke Mulholland took the kick for the Rowdies and the ball was headed into the net. But referee Fotis Bazakos called the goal off saying an infringement had taken place. The call seemed to raise the ire of Tampa coach Ricky Hill as he protested to the 4th official.
“All credit to my players for not being despondent when they had the disallowed goal go against them to tie thing up from a corner kick,” said Hill. “We could have easily put our heads down but we should good character.”
“I was just asking him (referee) where the infringement took place, that’s where the ball should be placed in the rules of the game. I don’t think you get (an extra) 10 yards unless it used to be for dissent and then the referee would make it 10 yards further and put the ball down. I thought the infringement was in the corner of the pitch. So I was just asking him to put the ball where the infringement was. He didn’t like it and threatened to send me off so I just kept quiet.”
The Rowdies did keep the faith and the Stars let down in the closing moments of the 1st half. Defender Justin Davis played a poor ball that forced Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel to make a bad clearance. The ball was picked off by Rowdies Tsuyoshi Yoshitake who curled the ball around the Stars keeper who was well out of his box and into the net to draw the game even moments before the end of the first half.
The second half also saw an equal match at midfield but as the game progressed the Rowdies pressure on the Stars defense started creating quality chances. One of those moments came in the 87th minute when a ball was crossed into the Stars box. Minnesota defender Brian Kallman got his head on the looping ball but only enough to knock it straight up to Tampa’s Mike Ambersley who sent it back into the mix. Substitute Daniel Antoniuk played the ball into Tsuyoshi Yoshitake who, with his back to the goal, laid it back to another substitute, Keith Savage. The midfielder took the bouncing ball and drilled it first-timed from 20 yards out past a diving VanOekel and into the net for the winning goal.
“I’m very, very pleased,” said Hill. “Minnesota is a top side and they’ve had a fantastic year so far. I’m sure they will have a fantastic year throughout. Manny’s got them playing good stuff. We felt after the Stars defeat last week to Carolina that they’d come and try to make a statement tonight and indeed they did. They came out fast and we came out equally and tried to impose our will on the game.”
Hill pointed out that the Stars’ early goal was the first time all season anyone has scored on Tampa in the first half. “In the 11 games, only in two have we been outplayed,” continued Hill. “Our failure has been not converting opportunities when we’ve had them and falling asleep on set plays and restarts and then conceding goals. I’ve been delighted with the effort of the players throughout the year. They can’t do anymore in training as to how they work or the intensity that they bring. I was just hoping we’d get a little bit of luck – a little bit of a break and take three points to hopefully kick us on for the remainder of the season.”
“It was a humbling loss tonight. I think we need to step back and understand that there was a lot of emotional energy put into the last month but we have to move on now,” said Coach Lagos. “The reality is, we’ve now lost three in a row. An Open Cup game and two league games. Every season is a story and it’s a challenge for us right now.”
“We certainly aren’t playing as well as we were earlier this season. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us but that’s part of the season and part of seeing what we are made of.”
The Stars will be back at home again next week when they play the Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Saturday, June 23rd at 7:30 at the NSC Stadium.
Martin Nunez goal for the Stars was one of the few bright spots in the game and will surely be nominated for one of the NASL Plays of the Week with his twisting, turning run that resulted in Minnesota taking the lead in the 9th minute of play.
“Every team in this league seems to be aggressive and big. It’s tough. I thought we defended well and we kept the ball at times, but we weren’t consistent and in the end we were just a bit unlucky,” said Nunez.
“I’m happy I’m in Minnesota and I want to do everything I can to help this team.”
Nunez 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