Minnesota Stars Leapfrog Tampa Bay Rowdies in Standings and Stop Winning Streak
Blaine, Minn. – 7-12-12
Courtesy of MN Stars FC and Alex Haueter
Minnesota Stars FC bounced back from a disappointing Saturday defeat with a 2-1 win Thursday night against the red-hot Tampa Bay Rowdies. Martin Nuñez and Kentaro Takada scored for the Stars, who ended Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak in front of 2,164 fans at NSC Stadium.
“I didn’t think it was pretty. Tampa played really well, especially in the second half, but I thought we were resolute defensively. I’m not necessarily proud of the overall way we played, but in terms of the guts and the battling, I’m really pleased with the effort,” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said after the game.
The best early chance fell to forward Amani Walker, making his first start since late May. In the 12th minute, left-back Justin Davis found a wide open Kevin Venegas with a well-placed cross-field pass, and Venegas crossed the ball to an onrushing Walker at the top of the six-yard box, but the Stars’ joint-top scorer couldn’t direct his header on target.
About a minute later, Fabrice “Fafa” Picault beat the Stars’ offside trap, but backtracking Stars defender Cristiano Dias forced Picault wide, and Matt VanOekel saved his right-footed shot from about 10 yards out. The Rowdies tested VanOekel again in the 19th minute as Frankie Sanfilippo sent a shot through a crowd to follow up a blocked free kick, but VanOekel got down to his left well to keep out the long-range effort.
Venegas was at the end of the next good Minnesota attack. Davis and Neil Hlavaty combined well on the left side before Davis switched the field to Venegas, who drove a shot low from the corner of the penalty area, but Tampa Bay goalkeeper Jeff Attinella dove to his right to tip the shot around the post. A minute later, Nuñez hooked a left-footed shot just wide from the top of the box as the Stars picked up their tempo midway through the first half.
The Stars’ pressure told after half an hour. Seconds after Walker had a shot blocked after beating Attinella to a rebound, Nuñez collected a pass from Lucas Rodriguez—also making his first start after a long injury layoff—and sent his second touch into the side netting from 10 yards out for his fourth goal of the season and third in less than three games.
Tampa had a golden opportunity in the 38th minute, when Dias and Picault collided going for an aerial challenge. Dias was called for the foul about 25 yards from goal and earned a yellow card for his protests, but former Stars player Luke Mulholland couldn’t clear the wall with his free kick and June NASL Player of the Month Tsuyoshi Yoshitake got caught offside going for the deflection.
Nuñez was at the heart of the Stars’ second goal right before halftime. In the 44th minute, Davis played a chipped ball in for Nuñez, who found space between the center backs and drove a header off the right upright. With Attinella out of the play, the finish on the doorstep was an easy one for Takada, who slid in to bury the rebound in the roof of the net to send Minnesota into the locker room up 2-0.
The second half saw a rejuvenated Tampa Bay squad come out, and the Rowdies had the Stars on their back heel for long stretches of the second half. The Stars dodged a bullet in the 53rd minute as substitute Rowdies winger Matt Clare fed Yoshitake at the top of the six-yard box, but the Japanese forward scuffed his attempt, and VanOekel gathered the harmless shot. The game’s next good chance fell to Tampa Bay as well as Yoshitake crossed for Mike Ambersley in the 63rd minute, but VanOekel dove well to parry away the Tampa forward’s header at his near post.
With Tampa throwing numbers forward looking for a way through a resolute Minnesota defense, Nuñez nearly put his name on the scoresheet for a second time in the 74th minute. VanOekel’s long outlet throw to Davis started a quick counterattack. Davis’ ball over the top for Nuñez bounced up kindly and the Uruguayan drove a half-volley just high and wide of the top corner.
Matt Clare broke Minnesota’s shutout and put Tampa on the board in the 78th minute. Ambersley broke the offside trap on the left wing before feeding a low cross to Clare, who looped a chip over the onrushing VanOekel and into the goal before Stars center back Ernest Tchoupe could get a foot around to clear it.
Tampa continued its second-half pressure, and Clare brought another save out of VanOekel in the 82nd minute with a driven shot from the corner of the penalty area, but the chance represented the last of any significance for either team as the Stars beat Tampa Bay for the first time in 2012.
The Stars play the final game of a four-match homestand next Wednesday, July 18, against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.