The Fort Lauderdale Strikers fell to the NSC Minnesota Stars in the first leg of the NASL Championship Series by a final of 3-1.
Neil Hlavaty got the Stars off to a dream start with a goal in the third minute. Andrei Gotsmanov drew a foul at the top of the penalty area, and Hlavaty stepped up with his right foot, crushing the ball around the wall and inside Fort Lauderdale goalkeeper Matt Glaeser’s far post.
“It was big to score that early against Fort Lauderdale because we’ve struggled against them this year, and to go up three minutes in gave us a confidence boost that showed the whole game,” Hlavaty said. “I couldn’t really get the shot up and down from that close, or didn’t want to try to, but I was hitting them inside yesterday, so I was going there the whole time, and luckily it went in.”
The Stars defended resolutely the rest of the first half, holding Fort Lauderdale to two weak shots on goal that goalkeeper Joe Warren saved easily. On offense, they continued creating chances, as Brian Kallman, Gotsmanov and Hlavaty all had open looks from distance.
The Strikers tied the game on a Stars' own goal in the 52nd minute. Fort Lauderdale defender Lance Laing sent in a long cross toward the far side of the goal, when a Minnesota defender redirected the ball back toward his own net and it bounced past Joe Warren.
Minnesota head coach Manny Lagos called that spell the pivotal moment in the game and was especially pleased with the rookie Davis’ response to his mistake.
“We’d been playing pretty well and to give up a tough goal makes it very difficult, but that reaction by the guys was unbelievable,” he said. “It just happens sometimes that the game doesn’t go your way, but Justin has done a good job understanding what things you can and can’t control.”
Minnesota re-took the lead just a minute later on an excellent shot by Luke Mulholland after the Strikers turned the ball over in their own half of the field.
The Strikers brought on Martin Nunez in the 70th minute and he was able to create a few chances for Fort Lauderdale. However, in the 77th minute, the Stars would add to their lead when Lucas Rodriguez snuck through the Strikers' defense and beat goalkeeper Matt Glaeser at the near post to give the Stars a 3-1 lead.
"It was a tough night for us from the start with giving up the goal in the fourth minute," said Fort Lauderdale head coach Daryl Shore. "We know it's only halftime and we now come home knowing what we need to do. We're disappointed with the result, but know we have 90 minutes to play."
The second and final leg of the NASL Championship Series will be at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, Oct. 29, at 7:30p.m.
MIN: Hlavaty - 4'
FTL: Minn Own Goal - 52'
MIN: Mulholland - 53'
MIN: Rodriguez - 77'
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