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Minnesota Stars Reach NASL Championship Finals — Again

2012 October 15
by Gerry Wittmann

San Antonio’s Pablo Campos sits in the tunnel after his 26th minute ejection for head butting Stars defender Kyle Altman just one minute after scoring for the Scorpions. Photo courtesy SA Scorpions and Robin Jerstad.

The Minnesota Stars FC reached the NASL Championship Finals for the second consecutive season, eliminating the regular season champion San Antonio Scorpions 2-1 Sunday evening at Heroes Field in Texas.  The Stars will meet the Tampa Bay Rowdies next Saturday at their home NSC Field, with the second leg of the Championship Finals occurring Saturday October 27.  Like last season, Stars coach Manny Lagos has brought his team to the finals from the last playoff seed. The Stars and Scorpions had played to a scoreless draw in the first leg of their semifinal series last weekend in Minnesota.

Over 6,200 fans were on hand in San Antonio in support of their Scorpions. And they got what they wanted when NASL leading scorer Pablo Campos gave the home side the go-ahead goal in the 25th minute of the match. Campos scored for the 21st time this season when he pounced on a rebound from a Hans Denissen tap saved by Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel. Jonathan Greenfield initiated the play with a fine low cross from the left flank into the mouth of the goal.

Unfortunately for Coach Tim Hankinson’s Scorpions, Campos negated the positive situation resulting from his goal when he received a straight red card for a flagrant foul on the Stars’ NASL Best XI Kyle Altman. Altman fouled Campos, putting his hands on the Brazilian’s chest following a high boot by Campos, but Campos overreacted and laid a headbutt on the Stars defender, causing his quick ejection. The Stars thus had a man advantage for more than an hour.

The black-clad Scorpions have performed well during the season in situations where they’ve been at a man disadvantage, and they held onto their 1-0 lead not only for the remainder of the first half but far into the second.  But with fifteen minutes left, the game changed when a cross by the Stars’ Neil Hlavaty from the left side to the far post was accidentally knocked into the goal by retreating Scorpions defender Blake Wagner. Hlavaty’s cross went over a leaping Amani Walker to bound off Wagner with the Stars’ Simone Bracalello closing in on the goalmouth.

Wagner nearly put the Scorpions back in the lead, as an immediate response from the Scorpions saw a Wagner header miss from a cross from Josue Soto. But Bracalello got the game winner five minutes later. Following a Scorpions’ throw-in deep in their own territory, the Stars came up with a quick turnover. A well-aimed pass from the left hit Bracalello on the move.  He drifted right and then fired off a shot from outside the box that one-hopped into the goal to the right of San Antonio goalkeeper Daryl Sattler to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.  Hankinson brought in attackers Jeff Cunningham and Esteban Bayona, but there was too little time left and the Stars go to the finals again, eliminating the Scorpions by an aggregate score of 2-1.

Despite the gap between the two clubs in the regular season standings, the Scorpions and Stars had played at a pretty even level in their four regular season meetings and the first leg of their semifinal series. But playing a man down for more than an hour was too much of a burden for the Texas club to overcome. According to Lagos, Campos’ ejection “… changed the game, in both ways. They had to sit back and defend, and we knew we would have chances to move forward and have opportunities to control the game and get back into it.  At halftime, I felt we were really starting to play well. It was a great effort considering how many guys they had behind the ball. At halftime, we got excited about attacking and getting the ball in good spots.”  The Stars totaled 18 shots on the night to only five for the home side.

The Stars’ victory means that for a second consecutive season, the NASL’s regular season champion was eliminated before the Championship Final.  Like last year’s Carolina RailHawks, the Scorpions were dominant most of the season before struggling during September and losing out in the playoffs. Still, much can be taken from the club’s first campaign on the field, as they led the league in wins, goals scored and allowed the least amount of goals during the regular season, in addition to topping the league in home attendance. San Antonio fans have a lot to look forward to once the disappointment of falling short of the Finals wears off.

For the Stars and Manny Lagos, they continue the trend exhibited in other American sports (most notably the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball and the New York Giants in the NFL): what matters is not who wins the most games in the regular season, but who can perform well in the playoffs.  A special tip of the cap goes not only to Lagos, but to goalkeeper Matt VanOekel, who in his first year as the Stars regular goalkeeper has allowed only two goals in three playoff games.

Next Saturday’s first leg matchup between the Stars and Rowdies for the championship kicks off at 8:30 pm EDT

21 Responses
  1. Hans VanOekel permalink
    October 15, 2012

    The Scorpions are a fantastic team, they proved that over and over throughout the season. But you have to play till the end, and in this case (again) Pablo Campos showed his petty side. He already got the foul called against the Stars, why take it a step further and headbutt, which only gives the referee one option, the Red Card. I would like to think that the Stars would have prevailed even with an 11 man squad for the Scorpions, but we will never know the outcome of that scenario. The Stars looked energized in the second half and deserved the win. Now lets repeat the feat from last year and win this Championship again. We are already making plans to be in Tampa on the 28th.

  2. Bart permalink
    October 15, 2012

    None of this will occur next season, when NASL moves to the split season format.

    This type of excitement and energy is gone forever, and this is what sports in the US is all about.

  3. Soccer Boy permalink
    October 15, 2012

    I think last night proves that if Pablo Campos wants to win an award, he best save his talent for America’s Got Talent and not hang out on the soccer pitch. While Pablo has documented success on the soccer pitch, he certainly demonstrates he lacks the class to be a great soccer player. Quite frankly, from watch most of the Scorpions play over the past season, it has more to do with Pablo than the end result. After meeting the guy personally two weeks ago, I think he is destind to be a great player who fails when it comes to taking his game to the next level. (What was with the kid coming down onto the pitch and dancing with Pablo after he scored? #Tacky)

    Great team effort and staying calm. I was glad to be a part of the MN faithful cheering for the Stars at the Sweety! I predict a Stars win over Tampa. (Yeah, last night before KO, I called it a 2-1 win in front of the crowd. I am on a role.)

  4. John permalink
    October 15, 2012

    Minnesota is beast

  5. tomASS permalink
    October 15, 2012

    @soccerboy -whoa whoa whoa, slow down Carnac the Magnificent, I believe I had said from the start that the ” Stars have them right where they want them”

  6. October 15, 2012

    First, Hans, you might want to plan on being in Tampa on the 27th, too.

    Interesting comments by Coach Hankinson after the game. He said (not verbatim), “One player’s decision helped us lose the game”. I’d be interested to see if Campos returns.

  7. October 15, 2012

    What an exciting game. I was at the edge of my seat the entire game. Its sad to think about the split season playoffs coming in 2013. It means less soccer.

    I’m sure the new split season playoff format will save the owners a spot of cash, but it will never provide the excitement of the current format.

    You’re going to find that several teams are not playing for anything in the last month. I give ‘em 2 years with the new format before they go back to qualifying. All it it takes is for a couple of dominant teams to emerge in the NASL and the split season format will render the regular season moot for too many fans, too soon.

  8. Mike permalink
    October 15, 2012

    Oh, those pesky Stars! Don’t they know that a league owned, low budget team isn’t supposed to upset the apple cart like this? It would be a real shame if they make the league look bad by having the board of governors contract the only champion it has had for two years. Will the governors squirm in their chairs at the meeting and possibly reconsider? Will the Cosmos have to cough up for a share? Will Traffic pay it for them? You couldn’t get better drama from a soap opera. It’s now up to those fake Rowdies, those usurpers of the name who don’t even play in the city they represent, to save the NASL from potential embarrassment. I did read recently that they hired a new marketing firm. Couldn’t have anything to do with the competition they’ll have out there next season, could it? Nah!

    As has been pointed out; sadly, there will be no more underdogs to cheer for in the playoffs next season. In fact, no more playoffs. The first half season winner in July will have nothing to play for until October, which should be really exciting for their fans. In fact, several teams may have nothing to play for. That format would have been handy this year to have kept the Stars out.

    A rather light crowd for San Antonio, maybe their lowest of the season. For a playoff game no less, one they had several weeks to promote and sell tickets for. Hmmm…

    The comment from the Scorps coach was interesting indeed. Yes, what Campos did was incredibly stupid, but he’s also the biggest reason why they got where they were in the first place. An own goal and sloppily giving the ball away on a throw in from your own half (followed by falling asleep defensively) helped a lot with that loss too. A quality strike from Bracalello, but he shouldn’t have been allowed to just walk in and take that shot.

  9. El Padre permalink
    October 15, 2012

    I hope that the Stars play like their lives depend on it since I believe that is exactly what they are doing in the finals. It will be very hard for the league to defund its current, defending, and only champions. While I am partial to the Rowdies for reasons of nostalgia, I pray that the Stars successfully defend the cup. NASL needs MN and a repeat championship may inspire investors to step up and buy the league’s first dynasty.

  10. OleGunnar20 permalink
    October 15, 2012

    6,200 fans? isn’t that kind of low for a huge playoff game? i mean for a team that averaged 9K and had some crowds in the 11K range? aren’t huge playoff matchups supposed to be your biggest draws? anybody have any idea what happened? bad weather? is the bloom off the rose down there?

  11. October 15, 2012

    I think the lower than normal crowd was because it WAS a playoff game. I don’t live in SA so I can’t say for sure, but I imagine media coverage was only marginally better, if any, for the playoff run. That’s how it was here in FTL last year.

    And they have less time to sell these games then normal. It’s not in the season ticket package. It’s a tough sell in the minors. The glamour and bandwagon effect isn’t the same as you see for the big league sports. Still a very solid crowd though.

    How bout those Stars? Great coaching obviously keeping these guys playing hard all year long. I say good luck to the Stars, defend the bowl and knock off the Rowdies(we wouldn’t want that star over their logo to be legitimized would we? lol)!

  12. SA_Hooligan permalink
    October 15, 2012

    The crowd looked on par as some of the games where they announced attendances of around 8000. Did not look as small as 6200. I myself almost didn’t go. Something about playoffs and footie just doesn’t sit right. Oh well.

  13. Max permalink
    October 15, 2012

    I think teams have made a tactical mistake both years by having the Stars host the first leg of the championship series. Sounds crazy, but hear me out. Travel is much more grueling in the minors, and I think if Tampa Bay stayed at home, and then made the Stars STAY on the road an extra week, they would get a more fatigued team, and, as a bonus, would be better rested. Also, the advantage of hosting the 2nd leg is much diminished for the Stars, with no away goals rule being used AND the fact that the Stars just don’t draw big crowds.

  14. October 15, 2012

    To be fair, the Rowdies don’t represent “a” city. They represent the Bay Area (“Tampa Bay” Rowdies, not “Tampa Rowdies,” no matter what Winston Dubose says).

    So saying “they don’t even play in the city they represent” is silly because they don’t represent a city. Also, neither do the New York Jets or Giants, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Phoenix Coyotes or Detroit Pistons.

    But that’s a typical comment for the type of genius this blog attracts.

  15. yankiboy permalink
    October 15, 2012

    From extacy to agony, all in about 4 minutes. That picture of Campos is worth a thousand words when you have larger context to attach it to.

    [at least in does in the mind of the self-proclaimed, greatest/worse of the aformentioned geniuses attracted by this blog...]

  16. Mike permalink
    October 15, 2012

    Can’t even make an innocent joke around here anyone, everyone is so damn touchy.

    Thanks for the update Mr. Tomasch sir, but it wasn’t necessary. This genius already got it.

  17. Bart permalink
    October 15, 2012

    @KT

    So the Rowdies represent all the little fishies, stone crabs and lobsters that the Bay can dredge up in St. Petersburg?

    Why don’t they just call themselves the Florida Rowdies so that they can self represent the entire State? Or even better, the United States Rowdies in case they missed anybody.

    Unlike Mike and Yankiboy, I ain’t no genius, I need to be handheld as I walk through the tulips here.

    So Nestor, a boy toy not from the area, can just make a claim as to who they represent?

    Gag me, junior cheerleaders of America.

  18. Strikers Return permalink
    October 15, 2012

    Good luck to the Stars in the Soccer Bowl. Strikers Nation is squarely behind you in hoping for a Rowdies beat down!

  19. Gaelforce permalink
    October 15, 2012

    I really hope this now brings out some investors for the team and we’ll see them back next year!

  20. kevthegerman permalink
    October 16, 2012

    Freaking Pablo screwed us, Mike is right, crappy own goal and pathetic defensive stance from the guy that just came off the bench. getting burned and scored on 30 yards out is deplorable.

  21. Soccer Boy permalink
    October 18, 2012

    @RecklessChallenge had an interesting interview “The Zidane of the NASL.” I listened to it twice and I get the strongest impression that he does not want to be back in SA next year. I have no clue what his contract states, or how long it is for. If I was a betting man, I think he is going to make a move to MLS and end up playing lots of reserve matches, unless he changes his attitude.

    Seriously, who cares if you can score goals, but can’t fit your head inside the locker room because of an over-sized ego. Well, let me re-phrase that…score goals against other teams. Scoring two goals in five matches against the Stars really is not that impressive…

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