Still Lots on the Line for Minnesota Stars in Final Two Matches
The Minnesota Stars got the proverbial monkey off their back on Tuesday night with a 4-0 win over the Puerto Rico Islanders. The Stars had gone 9 games without a win going back nearly 8 weeks to July 12th. Oddly, it was the second time in three meetings with the Islanders that Minnesota won by a 4-0 score, both coming at home. The 2nd match between the two teams was July 28th in Bayamon where the Stars fell 1-0 to the Islanders in a match were Minnesota played just well enough, for the most part, but fell short to Puerto Rico after a Noah Delgado goal in the 48th minute.
With Tuesday night’s win, Minnesota clinched the 6th and final playoff spot, the exact same position they had last year when they fought through a difficult playoff road that saw the team win the NASL Championship.
“It was a very nice night to end our home season,” said Stars head coach Manny Lagos. “Maybe now we can get excited about playing two away games and getting ready for the playoffs.”
The Stars do have two games left in the regular season, both away matches. Minnesota are 2-6-4 on the road this year. First they will travel to Puerto Rico this weekend where the Islanders are 7-3-2 at home. Minnesota then moves on to play first-place San Antonio the following weekend. The Scorpions are 8-2-2 at Heroes Stadium and have a +19 goal differential at home. Making matters worse, the Scorpions have also been the recipients of 7 penalty kicks this year at Heroes Stadium. Not one has been awarded to the opposition. The most penalty kicks any other team has been awarded is 3, and yes, they were all in favor of Puerto Rico in Bayamon.
The Scorpions also were assured of a first round bye with the Stars’ win on Tuesday night; it also looks as if they will be regular season champions. They sit six points above 2nd place Tampa, and while the Rowdies could statistically catch the Scorpions with two wins and San Antonio taking two losses, they would need to still make up a +18 goal differential. With that near impossibility, it’s safe to say the Scorpions have things wrapped up.
While San Antonio looks to have things in hand for first place and the Tampa Bay Rowdies are in a good position to take 2nd place with the bye that goes with it, spots 3-6 are tight with four teams battling and only 3 points separating them.
On Saturday night, Puerto Rico will be looking for a positive result as they are just 3 points off of 2nd place Tampa Bay and would love to get the NASL second place bye and seeding. They also have 4th place Ft. Lauderdale and Carolina nipping on their heels just 2 points behind and Minnesota who is in 6th place just 3 points behind. While it would be difficult but not impossible for Carolina and Ft. Lauderdale to surpass Tampa, Minnesota could only tie them and the Rowdies currently have a +1 goal differential.
The stronger possibility for Puerto Rico, Carolina, Ft. Lauderdale and Minnesota, is to grab spots 3 and 4 which would give them a home field advantage in the quarterfinals of the NASL Championship.
Whatever the results, the last two weeks of NASL action should be interesting as even Edmonton and Atlanta, (the Silverbacks are 2-1-3 in their last 5 matches) will work to play spoiler while all 6 playoff-bound teams jockey for their final position.
This weekend’s matches (9/15-16):
Atlanta hosts Ft. Lauderdale
Puerto Rico hosts Minnesota
Edmonton hosts Tampa Bay
San Antonio hosts Carolina
Wednesday matches (9/19):
Atlanta hosts San Antonio
Tampa hosts Carolina
Final weekend matches (9/22-23):
Carolina hosts Tampa
Puerto Rico hosts Atlanta
Edmonton hosts Ft. Lauderdale
San Antonio hosts Minnesota