Martin Nunez scores deep into added time on a corner kick to give the Stars a 2-0 aggregate lead heading into St. Petersburg. Photos by Jeremy Olson – www.digitalgopher.net
As would be expected, players and coaches of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Stars had a wide gamut of emotions after Saturday evening’s 2-0 win for Minnesota. The victory for the Stars is only half the battle as the team will now have to travel to Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida for the 2nd leg of the total goal series. While the 2 goal cushion is helpful for Minnesota, Tampa has the 4th best home record in the NASL at 7-1-6. The Stars had the 4th worst road record at 2-5-7.
After the match on Saturday, Stars head coach Manny Lagos said he would give the players the night to celebrate but when they wake up on Sunday morning, there would be a reality check.
“Make no mistake, I want the guys to enjoy the night, I want the connection with the fans because it was so special,” Lagos said. “But we have to wake up tomorrow and understand that there’s still a lot of work to do to try to win this thing again.”
The Stars coach singled out VanOekel for a good performance but was proud of his entire team. “Between Matty [VanOekel] and a few of our defenders we really hung in there. Then at halftime we made a few tactical adjustments to try to get a little bit tighter and higher so they couldn’t move that ball so quickly. It was just a great effort in the second half by the guys – wave after wave of attack. I couldn’t be happier but we’ll take a deep breath because it’s halftime and now we go to Tampa.”
Tampa goalkeeper Jeff Attinella called the match a “tale of two halves” and was frustrated with his team’s let down in the dying minutes of the match.
“We had opportunities that we weren’t able to put away. We were all over them. They came out more on point than we did the second half and they had their chances. Amani [Walker] hit an absolute screamer that I couldn’t do anything about. To be honest I think they wanted it more than we did in the second half and it showed with the 2-0 result. But now we head home – we’ve been scoring goals there. It will be tough but hopefully we can get a result.”
“That corner came off a real bad giveaway and then a bad sequence. We go down 1-0 it’s not a big deal in a two-game series but 2 is a little bit harder to climb. But it was just sort of sloppy towards the end. I don’t know if we lost focus or what happened. But we definitely made it hard on ourselves. They definitely have the momentum right now but we’re heading home and we feel comfortable there so we will see what happens.”
Tampa coach Ricky Hill, smiling as always, spun the match result off the best he could. “I was very happy with the first half and the way things went and thought we played excellently without capitalizing on our chances. It took a wonder goal from Amani [Walker] to open things up and at one-nil we felt, okay, we’re comfortable, we’re not looking too bad. But then self-inflicted, we gave an unnecessary corner away and such as lore has it, it’s suddenly in the back of our net. Tough to take, we’re two-nil down and I don’t think we deserved to be two-nil down on the balance of play tonight. But it is what it is, and we’ve got ninety minutes to rectify that next week.”
“I’m sure the lads’ heads are down right now. I’ve got to go pick them back up and get their minds right, get their heads right. We have 90 minutes of football left and anything can happen. We need to get ourselves ready at Al Lang and get ourselves firing and get an early goal and put the pressure back on Minnesota. We’re down but not out and we’ll come out fighting on Saturday.”
Minnesota Stars assistant coach and tactician Carl Craig gave credit to not only the players who have experienced the championship from last season but also the new and younger players who have just as much desire to win the trophy. But he singled out all four defenders and spoke to his central players Kyle Altman and Conner Tobin.
“You see Kyle Altman the last couple of games, he’s on bloody fire, I mean he’s a monster,” said Craig. “It’s amazing, he’s one of the quietest lads in the locker room, but you see him on the field when it comes to the big game and he ramps it up.”
“[Connor] Tobin, he’s probably the toughest guy in the team. He doesn’t have the greatest speed but he didn’t put a foot wrong. He’s in there, he’s attacking. You look at [Rowdies forward] Carl Cort and you look at his experience, a Champions League footballer, Premier League footballer – but these lads handled him very comfortably tonight.”
Nearly 300 Dark Clouds supporters crowded the east stands on Saturday night with many accidentally breaking through the dasher boards to celebrate the Stars’ 2nd goal.