ATLANTA (April 28, 2012) - Down 3-1 with nine minutes to play, the unbeaten start to Minnesota Stars FC's season looked over. Instead, the offense rallied again Saturday night and Justin Davis scored from 30 yards out deep into stoppage time to salvage a 3-3 draw with the Atlanta Silverbacks at Silverback Park in Atlanta, dramatically setting up a rematch next Saturday at NSC Stadium as the two teams meet again.
The Stars made three changes from the side that beat FC Edmonton 4-3 last Sunday, with Kevin Friedland stepping in at center back in place of the suspended Kyle Altman. Shawn Chin made his Stars debut on the left wing in place of Lucas Rodriguez, and Sunday's match winner, Devin Del Do, made his first start of the season in place of Simone Bracalello. Once again, the Stars offense rallied to carry the team through another poor defensive showing, as Minnesota conceded three goals for the second straight game after starting the season with back-to-back shutouts.
The first opportunity for either team fell to Atlanta forward Reinaldo Navia, who got behind the defense but saw his shot from the top of the penalty box tipped over the bar by Matt VanOekel in a sign of things to come for the Chilean striker and league leading scorer.
The Stars answered with a chance of their own in the 20th minute. Friedland's long ball from near midfield found the diagonal run of Amani Walker, but the target forward's touch over Atlanta goalkeeper Daniel Illyes was too heavy and floated harmlessly over the crossbar.
VanOekel was called into action again in the 29th minute. Stars midfielder Kentaro Takada gave away a free kick in the on the edge of the penalty area, and Ciaran O'Brien's driven free kick required a diving save at the far post to steer the ball away from goal.
The 41st minute brought a scare for both teams, as Del Do and Atlanta defender Rilla clashed heads challenging for a header. After short treatment, both players were able to continue.
The Stars best spell of the first half came late. Chin found space in the midfield and hit a rising shot from 30 yards out, but it sailed just over the goal. Two minutes later, Del Do put a shot on target from about 20 yards, but Illyes dove well to his right and covered the low shot as the teams went to the half scoreless.
Three minutes into the second half, Atlanta was ahead, kicking off a second half full of fireworks. Danilo Turcios' through ball found Navia, and the forward chipped the ball over the onrushing VanOekel to make the score 1-0. Navia almost returned the favor to Turcios a minute later, but VanOekel dove well to his lower left to tip the shot away.
The Stars responded well following the near miss. Ibarra cut in from the left wing to shoot, but his right-footed effort curled right into Illyes' arms. A minute later, Neil Hlavaty tested Illyes again with a drive from 30 yards. Illyes couldn't hold the shot, but the Stars were offside attempting to take advantage of the rebound. Ibarra set up substitute Martin Nunez for a near miss in the 63rd minute, but the winger missed wide, slipping as he shot.
A minute later, Navia grabbed his second and made it 2-0 Atlanta. Turcios picked off a pass in the Stars' defensive third and fed Navia. The Chilean's initial shot was deflected by VanOekel and cleared off the line, but he was on hand to tap it in for his fifth goal of the season to go clear at the top of the North American Soccer League scoring charts.
The two-goal advantage didn't last long, as Walker grabbed his first goal of the season in controversial circumstances in the 66th minute. The Silverbacks failed to completely clear a corner, and Ibarra played the ball back in to an unmarked Walker, who headed home from 10 yards out as Atlanta appealed for offside.
As the game began moving end-to-end, O'Brien nearly restored the two-goal lead off a feed from Navia, but Cristiano Dias slid to disrupt his shot, and VanOekel tipped it away at the near post.
Walker nearly grabbed his second in the 71st minute, after Del Do held up the ball well before looping a no-look cross, which Walker met at the top of the six-yard box, but he was falling backward as he headed it and Illyes was able to prevent his header creeping in as Ibarra crashed the goal looking for a rebound.
David Santamaria's first goal of the season re-established the two-goal lead in the 79th minute, finishing a quick Atlanta counter. Turcios fed the substitute near the penalty spot, and although VanOekel got a hand on his low shot, he couldn't steer it around the post as Atlanta went up 3-1.
The game looked beyond the Stars, but Del Do grabbed his second goal of the season in the 88th minute, pouncing on a ball over the top in the 88th minute to give the Stars hope. Less than a minute later, substitute Bracalello rang the crossbar with a half volley from the top of the penalty area. The Stars continued to push, but as the game moved deeper into stoppage time, an equalizer looked just out of reach.
Then came Davis' heroics. The Stars left back, pushed forward into the midfield, controlled a half clearance 35 yards from goal, took a touch, and let a shot fly into the upper corner of Illyes' near post to rescue a point and keep the Stars unbeaten.
The tie leaves the Stars with a record of one win, three draws and no losses. The team's six points leaves them in fourth place in the eight-team league with a game in hand on all three teams above them in the standings.