Last time out Minnesota snuck two goals past NASL Best XI goalkeeper Jeff Attinella. Photo by Jeremy Olson – www.digitalgopher.net
On Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. the unlikely Minnesota Stars FC, who were the 6th seeded team in the NASL, will begin their 2-legged championship series against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine, Minn. The Stars will attempt to defend their place as reigning NASL Soccer Bowl Champions. In order to get to this place, the Stars followed their deja vu-like road map from last year. This year, just like the 2011 playoff run, Minnesota needed to defeat the number 3 seed in a single elimination quarterfinal. Against the odds they did so beating Puerto Rico in Bayamón, a place the Stars had never won a game in their three years existence.
Being the last seed, Minnesota then needed to face the first seeded team in the semifinals. The situation this year was eerily like 2011 with the Scorpions winning the NASL regular season championship. Last year it was the Carolina RailHawks who ran away with the regular season but struggled down the stretch.This year it was San Antonio winning the regular season and struggling in the stretch run. Last weekend the Stars took their opportunities after a Pablo Campos red card and defeated the Scorpions 2-1 to move onto the finals.
…at some point in the game, soccer stops mattering. What matters is what’s inside. The kind of character you possess within and what you are willing to do to win.
Minnesota Stars Captain, Kyle Altman
Last year the Stars faced the number five seed Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the final, who had upset the 2nd seed Puerto Rico Islanders. This year the Stars will not be so lucky. They will face a very hot Rowdies team who finished the season in 2nd place with 45 points, just 2 points off San Antonio.
“We are on a decent run,” Rowdies head coach Ricky Hill told Daniel Feuerstein on Thursday night. ”We’ve not been beaten in 8 and only lost 2 in the last twenty. But in the final everything is out the window and we start from scratch. Minnesota are the reigning champions and they are not about to relinquish the trophy. We know we are going to have to try to pry one hand off of the trophy and then hopefully when we come to Al Lang we will be able to complete the task ahead. But we understand that it’s 180 minutes of intense real football.”
Minnesota is 4-5-3 against the Rowdies in their 3 year existence. But like last season Minnesota know they are the underdog going into this series. The Stars were 1-2-1 against the Rowdies this season which included a 0-0 draw on May 25th, in St. Petersburg, a 2-1 loss on June 16th, in Minnesota, a 2-0 loss on June 30th at Al Lang stadium and a 2-1 win on July 12th at the NSC Stadium in Blaine. With all four matchups being played in the earlier part of the season, it has been over 3 months since the two teams have seen each other.
Looking at the the numbers, Tampa finished the regular season with 10 more points than the Stars. But looking closer at team statistics, the two are not that different. Tampa scored 37 goals this season and had 30 against while Minnesota scored 34 for and had 33 against. The Rowdies collected a few more clean sheets than Minnesota with 11, the Stars had 9. The biggest difference may be the two teams away record. Tampa went 5-6-3 while Minnesota went 2-5-7 on the road.
But Stars captain Kyle Altman says when the playoffs come you can throw all the numbers out the window. He believes it comes down to other qualities beside the soccer that is played on the field.
“The thing with the playoffs and the intensity is that the stakes are so much higher,” Altman told NSCtv. “I think we have a group of players that know that at some point in the game, soccer stops mattering. What matters is what’s inside. The kind of character you possess within and what you are willing to do to win. That doesn’t always come out during the regular season. But when the stakes are this high, I think we have a burning fire within that says we want to win. And we will find ways to do that.”
“I think they’ve got a great bunch of players and they always put their best foot forward,” said NASL Coach of the Year, Ricky Hill. “I’ve never seen a Minnesota side give up easily. They are always difficult to beat.”
The NSCtv crew interviewed both Stars player/coach Kevin Friedland and captain Kyle Altman. This is footage that was not used in an earlier NSCtv piece of the Stars ability to rise up during the playoffs and succeed.