Minnesota Stars Clinch Playoff Spot with 4-0 Win Over Islanders
Maybe it was the professional debut start for rookie Nate Polak who scored Minnesota’s first goal of the night, or it might have been the cumulative leadership of Orlando City loan player Jamie Watson who coming into the match had a game under his belt with his new teammates and nearly a week on the training ground. It could have been the memory of July 4th when the Stars defeated the very same Puerto Rico club at home by a score of 4-0, one of the few highlights for the team in the last two months. And it might have been a depleted Puerto Rico Islanders squad that had numerous starters missing due to international duty. It could have even been that with two matches in three days, the Stars went with some line up changes finding Connor Tobin, Michael Reed and Polak in the starting lineups rather that the usual suspects in Manny Lagos’ steadfast lineup. But whatever it was, the Minnesota Stars’ floodgates opened on Tuesday night at the NSC Stadium in Blaine Minnesota, the goals spilled out, the players felt relief and the fans loved every minute of the last regular season home game, a 4-0 win for Minnesota.
Minnesota scored goals in the 17th, 45th, 46th and 52nd minute to not only turn the team’s 9 game winless span into a 5 match undefeated streak, but clinched the 6th and final NASL playoff spot, eliminating both Edmonton and Atlanta in the process and assuring the San Antonio Scorpions a bye in the first round.
The second goal scored by Miguel Ibarra was the first time since July 12 the Stars scored two goals in a game which was also their last victory, a 2-1 win over Tampa Bay at home.
While the Stars have struggled to win matches and score goals, the team has continued to battle through the streak and keep matches close, often times tying their opponents. In fact before Tuesday night’s dominating performance, the Stars had drawn their previous 4 matches and no opponent in the last 11 games had more than a one goal difference in a contest.
Stars coach Manny Lagos said he felt more happiness for the players than relief for the team to finally be on the winning end of a match and to score a few goals.
“I thought tonight they handled the stress of this past month so well,” said Lagos. “It was so fun to watch them play with joy and some expression and get some great goals.”
The Stars took the lead in the 17th minute when Jamie Watson set up Polak in a one-on-one situation with Puerto Rico’s goal keeper Richard Martin. Polak calmly kept himself between the goal and his defender, then drove the ball right of Martin, rippling the net. It was the rookie’s first goal.
But the Stars had taken the lead in previous matches only to give up a late equalizer, so Minnesota supporters sighed in relief moments before the half when Miguel Ibarra was released to go one-on-one with Martin. His opportunity didn’t work out but he continued to scrap for the ball which eventually came out to Polak. He took a crack at it but the ball deflected toward the corner. The rookie forward tracked down the ball, beat his defender and drove a low cross across the goal box. The ball deflected off teammate Amani Walker and caromed to Ibarra who was standing near the goal line but onside where he redirect the ball into the goal.
The Stars jump-started their 2nd half with a spectacular goal by newcomer Jamie Watson who, from a wide position and at the top of the box, curled a perfect first time shot up and around Martin putting the Stars up 3-0.
Watson, whose experience and maturity seems to be paying dividends for the Stars, says his goal was crucial for the team, especially after the recent poor run of form for the Stars.
“I was really happy to score that goal because it came at an important time in the game. At 2-0, who ever scores the next goal either it brings them back into the game or essentially finishes it. I was just glad to get that and set the tone for the rest of the half.
The fourth goal of the match came from a turn around of the second goal. Ibarra was provider to Walker who scored his 7th of the season which makes him the all time leading scorer in single season for the 3-year-old Stars.
“It was a very nice night to end our home season,” said Lagos. “Maybe now we can get excited about playing two away games and getting ready for the playoffs.”
The Stars will face a familiar opponent in Puerto Rico when they travel to Bayamón on Saturday night to a full strength Islanders team.
Stars forward Nate Polak chosen as the Brit’s Pub/IMSoccer News – Minnesota Stars FC Man of the Match
Nate Polak, who received his first start as a pro on Tuesday night, scored the Stars’ all important first goal and helped set up the team’s second goal, was aptly named the Brit’s Pub/IMS Soccer News – Man of the Match.
“It feels amazing with my first professional start and a goal,” said Polak. “It was a a great debut for me, it feels really good. When I was signed my goal was just to help the team out, whether that was scoring goals, getting assists or just working hard on or off the field.”
The 6’2″ Hastings College forward said when he got his one-on-one situation with Puerto Rico goalkeeper Richard Martin and buried the ball in the back of the net, he wasn’t really nervous and just “did what I do,” said the rookie. “I was just confident with myself.”
“Whenever a play is building up my first thought is always, look for a second chance–another opportunity. That’s what happened. I took a shot, the ball took off toward the corner. I kept working hard, battled for it, brought it back to the center and we got another goal off it. It’s all about working hard and following through on the play.”
Polak 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.