Late Edmonton Equalizer Delays Minnesota Stars Playoff Berth
It finally looked as if Minnesota Stars FC’s luck had turned against Canadian rivals FC Edmonton. For the majority of the 90 minutes, the Stars preserved a one goal lead in hopes of winning their first game since July.
Not only would the win end the monotony of draws and losses, but it would have also clinched that final sixth-place playoff spot.
Needless to say, the game didn’t exactly end as it had begun.
The Stars started Matt VanOekel, Justin Davis, Cristiano Dias, Kyle Altman, Brian Kallman, Jamie Watson, Kentaro Takada, Neil Hlavaty, Miguel Ibarra, Martin Nunez and Amani Walker. In turn, Edmonton fielded Lance Parker, David Proctor, Adam West, Kevin Hatchi, Paul Hamilton, Antonio Rago, Bryan Arguez, Kenny Caceros, Michael Cox, Shaun Saiko and Kyle Porter.
The Stars pressured early, using set piece situations to cause chaos in the box. However, Edmonton always seemed to scramble a recovery and keep the score line level. The Canadians also tallied the first shot on goal in the 14th minute when a Hamilton header off a corner sailed straight to VanOekel.
But in the 19th minute, debutant Watson proved he was a good addition to the team by creating a Stars goal. His ball sent Davis down the flank. Davis’ low cross made Walker’s tap in easy and the Stars led 1-0.
Two minutes later, Edmonton took advantage of a dangerous free kick, but Saiko ultimately guided the ball straight to VanOekel. Soon after, Walker almost notched a second goal, but the referee ruled his strike offside. Walker was again involved in the 25th minute after a Nunez assist but missed his shot wide of the net.
The first yellow card of the match fell Cox’s way in the 32nd minute after a late foul on Altman. A minute later, Watson had his chance at his first Stars goal after a throw in but directed his volley wide. Another throw in a few minutes later almost saw Takada score, but the ball flew over the crossbar.
Hlavaty nearly whipped a corner kick into the net in the 42nd minute, but Parker managed to punch the ball out for another corner. Proctor picked up an injury and had to limp off the field. Jonathan Joseph Augustin replaced him.
The first half ended satisfactorily for the Stars. The team had been dangerous in front of goal, and while a few chances had slipped away, it had capitalized on one and now had to work to maintain that lead.
Walker was again the most involved for the Stars in the second half. His volley went wide after a quick counter attack.
In the 61st minute, Saiko could have equalized from distance but powered his shot well over the bar. Three minutes later, Sérisay Barthelémy came on for West. The Stars followed suit in the 73rd minute, subbing off Walker for Nate Polak. Three minutes later, Edmonton made its final substitution as Elvir Gigolaj took Caceros’ place.
Barthelémy showed some good skill in the 80th minute. His agile turn and subsequent volley popped over the bar, however. Three minutes later, Kallman hoped to seal the win for his team but elicited a save from Parker.
The 88th minute gave the Stars a chance to while away some time with substitutions and give players some rest. Nunez, who had limped a bit, came off in favor of Devin Del Do.
Edmonton didn’t let the lack of time left diminish its urgency. The team’s equalizer almost came with a minute left of regulation time when Saiko crossed to an unmarked Barthelémy in the box. VanOekel was a nonfactor, but Barthelémy’s header veered wide.
With two minutes of stoppage time, the Stars seemed home free, even if Edmonton had been the better team for the last few minutes. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the long-awaited win and sigh of relief for making the playoffs was put on hold, as Edmonton scored. Arguez assisted Saiko who put the ball in the back of the net on literally the last play of the game.
While the 1-1 tie was disappointing on many levels, the Stars did still win the Flyover Cup by virtue of beating Edmonton 4-3 in its first encounter and drawing 1-1 the last three meetings.
The playoffs may not quite be a done deal either, but the Stars are eight points ahead of Edmonton and the Atlanta Silverbacks with three games left in the regular season. So the season may not be over just yet.
Stars forward Amani Walker chosen as the Brit’s Pub/IMSoccer News – Minnesota Stars FC Man of the Match
Amani Walker who scored the Stars lone goal was named the Brit’s Pub/IMS Soccer News – Man of the Match.
“JD got a great ball in. It was pretty simple from there to just to put it in. Other than that, you just have to stay composed in a situation like that. A good goal, but to reiterate what Kyle (Altman) said last week, it’s three points lost.”
Walker stated that the team needs to start finishing off more of their chances in the next several weeks in order to not let teams back into matches.
“The past couple games we’ve gone up a goal but just haven’t finished it out. We really need to stay on top of things and finish off our opportunities to finish the game out early. We need to score that second or third goal and put the team down so they can’t come back in the 91st minute like they did tonight. In the next three weeks we really have to buckle down and not let that come back and haunt us.”
Walker 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