Minnesota Stars Settle for Another Draw Against Last Place Atlanta
Minnesota Stars FC failed to capture a needed three points on the road after drawing with NASL last-place club Atlanta Silverbacks 0-0 away – continuing a Minnesotan six-match winless skid spanning back to July 12. With only six remaining matches this season, the Stars earn a single point, but fell to sixth place in front of 3,911 in Atlanta against a ten-man Silverbacks’ squad.
In the fourth and final meeting between the two teams in the 2012 regular season — with each team earning a single victory and playing to two draws — neither team was able to sustain enough pressure or possession to break onto the score line all match.
It was a nervous first half of play for the Minnesota Stars, who have only won two games all season on the road. In a contest decided decisively by each side’s defense, who seemed content to play the ball backwards, neither club was eager to give up a first big break.
Luckily for Minnesota and Atlanta all match long, neither did.
The Stars captured their first shot on goal after only four minutes of play as midfielder Miguel Ibarra ditched a defender on the far side of the field to make a run with pace into the box — one that ended with the ball just wide left of Silverbacks’ keeper Daniel Illyes’ goal.
On the other end of the pitch, defender Martyn Lancaster led Atlanta defensively with crucial stops against Miguel Ibarra and Simone Bracalello in the first half, as well as racing downfield to fan some of Atlanta’s most dangerous offensive sparks.
Atlanta’s best offensive opportunity of the entire match came late in the first half in the 42nd minute, as midfielder Ciaran O’Brien fed a perfect cross to an undefended forward Matt Horth in front of the net who slammed the ball on frame — and into the waiting arms of Minnesota keeper Matt VanOekel.
Many of the Stars’ offensive chances, however, were created by the pace of midfielder Miguel Ibarra, as well as several long-range strikes by veteran midfielder Neil Hlavaty — including a dangerous ball from the edge of the box in the 29th minute that caused Illyes to make a diving save.
Despite a slow-paced first hour of play, a single call in the 62nd minute changed the atmosphere inside Atlanta Silverbacks Park immediately. Midfielder Ciaran O’Brien appeared to engage the center referee verbally off the ball by dissenting about a foul, and was shown a second yellow — resulting in a red card that forced Atlanta to play the final 30 minutes with ten men.
Minutes later, Minnesota would substitute midfielder Kevin Venegas in for Lucas Rodriguez, who conducted another strong performance in the Stars’ midfield, and later, forward Amani Walker would replace Bracalello, in hopes of opening the scoring in Atlanta. The Silverbacks’ defense remained as impenetrable following the red card as before it, and the Stars were unable to construct any concerted offensive efforts.
The best chance for Minnesota to capture the victory with a go-ahead goal on the road came in the 80th minute, as Walker charged into the box from the left side facing only Illyes and empty space – only to drive the ball into the side netting.
Though a man down, Atlanta rose to the occasion by playing stifling defensive in their second straight shutout – an impressive feat given than only one member of the defensive back three, Martyn Lancaster, is an original starter from the beginning of the season.
Despite owning late possession because of the man advantage, Minnesota was unable to finish offensively, and have only scored two goals in five matches.
Atlanta’s match was the club’s first under the guidance of new head coach Brian Haynes, who was selected as a replacement by interim head coach and former U.S. national team player Eric Wynalda — who remains with the club as an adviser.
With only six matches remaining in the regular season, Minnesota now heads back to the NSC in Blaine for a stretch of four home games against Edmonton, San Antonio, and Puerto Rico.