After a long 3-week road trip the Minnesota Stars will be back at home this Saturday, May 5, at the National Sport Center Stadium. The Stars’ home opener at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis on April 7th was a great success with over 8,000 fans attending.
While there’s no doubt the team would prefer to be playing their games in a more urban setting, the NSC Stadium in a fine facility and a great place to watch soccer since it was renovated in 2008. As they old adage goes, “There’s not a bad seat in the house.”
But as Minnesota returns to Blaine for their 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday night against the Atlanta Silverbacks, Stars players are excited to get back to the place they know as home. A place where their fans come to support them and the stadium where, in 3 years time, a core group of players have started to chisel out some history for the team.
The Stadium may be a 20 minute drive north of downtown Minneapolis, but there are many endearing qualities about it. One of them is a feature that many top soccer venues feature world wide; A stadium tunnel.
As players from Liverpool walk down a flight of stairs and into the tunnel to Anfield, there is a sign that states, “THIS IS ANFIELD.” Many of the Liverpool players touch the sign when entering the stadium and opposing players know they are in for a long ninety minutes playing in front of the Kop.
There are many other stores of football/soccer tunnels world-wide with similar slogans and great pride taken as the starting 11 pass through the place where memories are made.
While the Stars do have a tunnel, there is nothing very glamorous about it. The walk from the dressing room to the entrance is curved with a large entrance. The tunnel itself is austere: dark, damp and gray. But at the end is the NSC Stadium pitch, where every player who wears the Stars uniform wishes to be standing on game day. If you are standing in the tunnel, it means you are one of the starting 11 and it’s a day for you to shine. A day to possibly create more Stars history and a day to create memories for both players and fans alike.
“One of my favorite soccer memories is standing in the tunnel before the finals from last year,” said central defender Kyle Altman. “All you can see from in there are the east stands and the Dark Clouds. I’m looking across the field and it’s the biggest section the Dark Clouds had ever had since I had been here. You could feel the energy – the electricity; the flags are waving the streamers are going and as you walk out onto the field someone lit some smoke bombs and it was just this great, great atmosphere. It’s definitely my favorite memory of standing in the tunnel.”
Neil Hlavaty says he tries to keep calm and focused as he enters into the tunnel. The Stars midfielder feels all the proper mental preparations need to take place before then. “If you wait until the tunnel it’s probably going to be too late,” say Hlavaty, who tries to make sure he’s the last one out of the locker room and always makes sure he’s either second to last or last in line to enter the field.
Hlavaty says he does look for his parents in the stands because they try to make all the Stars home games. Otherwise his routine is to focus on the job at hand. “Other then looking for my parents, I always says a prayer during the National Anthem. Otherwise I just try to keep my head down and not really look at anyone or give off any emotion until the game starts. It’s a relatively long time from the time you walk out of the tunnel until the kick off. You don’t want to be too high and you don’t want to be too low.”
“The tunnel is always an exciting moment,” said Stars forward Simone Bracalello, who says the moment is filled with anticipation. The Italian forward says he actually has a memory of the tunnel itself in his first year with the team. “I remember my first season we played Carolina here. It was a good game but there was a thunderstorm. So we really had to use that tunnel because we were running back and forth and back and forth because of delays.” Bracalello laughs as he recalls he missed a penalty that night and he thought about that as well when he walked though the tunnel on his way back to the locker room. “Still, it was a great game and great night,” says Bracalello.
Devin Del Do, forward for the Stars, says he tries to conjure up positive memories while standing in the tunnel waiting to take the field. He tries to remember what it feels like when he scores a goal or makes an assist. Stirring those positive memories is part of his routine.
Another one of Del Do’s positive moments are remembering the unconditional support the Stars fans give the team. He says the memory of the Dark Cloud supporters and all the Stars fans are something that many of the players think about when waiting to walk onto the field.
“That’s definitely in the back of our minds when you are standing in the tunnel waiting to hit the field. It’s a good feeling knowing you have such a great group of fans that are backing us up, even when the game isn’t necessarily going your way. The Dark Clouds are behind us and we are going to do everything in our power to not only get a result for us as a team, but for them too.”
The Stars came from behind last weekend in Atlanta when they played the very same Silverbacks team to a 3-3 draw. That match saw Minnesota come back from a 2-goal deficit in the waning moments of the game. Devin Del Do scored in the 88th minute. Then Justin Davis scored with a lighting bolt of a shot from 35-yards out which stole the 3 points from the Silverbacks.
The Silverbacks Chilean forward Reinaldo Navia was named NASL Player of the Month for April. He leads the league in goals with 5 on 7 shots and only 274 minutes played. The Stars will have to keep the former Club América star in check as he is averaging 1.6 goals per game.
The Stars enter into the match with a 1-w/0-L/3-T record. A month into the season they sit in 4th place with 6 points.
Atlanta has a 0-W/0-L/4-T record with 4 points and sit in 6th place in the NASL standings.