ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (June 30, 2012) -- The Rowdies extended their winning streak to three straight victories with a 2-0 victory over Minnesota Saturday night at Al Lang Stadium.
Tampa Bay and Minnesota racked up a total of 37 shots combined during the match, with the Rowdies only outshooting the Stars 19-18 in what was a strong defensive showing for both clubs. Despite playing to a deadlocked first half with strong goalkeeping performances for both sides, the Tampa Bay Rowdies captured their third straight win—two of which were against the Stars—to move ahead of Minnesota into third in the North American Soccer League standings.
The Rowdies would earn the majority of the early offensive pressure in the match and forced VanOekel to make several incredible saves—including a stop in a one-on-one opportunity for Tampa Bay’s Tsuyoshi Yoshitake.
Tampa Bay captured the first shot of the game with under a minute played, when a set piece nearly offered Rowdies’ captain Frankie Sanfilippo his first goal of the season. VanOekel was able to make the save and kept making saves, and was able to boost Minnesota defensively to face a Tampa Bay double-digit shot count in the first half alone.
The Stars were not without their own offensive opportunities as forward Simone Bracalello afforded Minnesota their first offensive spark on a long free kick in the 19th minute with a strong strike that forced Rowdies’ keeper Jeff Attinella to make a diving save.
Forward Miguel Ibarra would maintain the Stars’ tempo in the 27th minute when he drove a long-range half-volley from nearly forty yards out, only to hit the Tampa Bay crossbar. For most of the first half, that would stand as the most concerted effort on frame by the Minnesota.
VanOekel stretched to make seven key saves in the first half including strong drives from Rowdies’ players Ambersley and Takuya Yamada. In the first half alone, Minnesota and Tampa Bay both racked up 10 shots, but strong defensive showings rose to provide a scoreless first 45 minutes of play.
The Stars’ defense would face further offensive firepower from the Rowdies at the beginning of the second half, and VanOekel gave a heroic display.
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However, the Rowdies broke through for the first goal of the match in the 55th minute as former Stars player Luke Mulholland crossed a beautiful overhead ball to the waiting Mike Ambersley, who beat Van Oekel with a header to put Tampa Bay on top.
Minnesota countered quickly with a flurry of chances, most notably in the 57th minute when defender Justin Davis put a cross with pace over the Tampa Bay defense, but forward Martin Nunez’s header was the second Minnesotan effort to find the woodwork off the crossbar.
Despite several counters downfield, the Rowdies controlled much of the possession in the second half only to be frustrated by the strength of the Stars’ back four. VanOekel saved strike after strike for the Stars, but Minnesota was unable to stem the flow of the Rowdies’ offensive pressure for long.
Rowdies forward Tsuyoshi Yoshitake, only the third player in history to be named NASL Player of the Week consecutively—an honor he earned for his performances in the previous two weeks in June—finally broke through from distance with a left-footed shot from distance that beat Van Oekel to the near post in the 88th minute. VanOekel would finish with 10 saves in a match where no cautions were issued.
“We didn’t give up, but the Rowdies came out and played a better second half,” Minnesota head coach Manny Lagos said. “We played a good game, but we need to get better moving forward.”
The Stars once again were forced to play without forward and scoring co-leader Amani Walker due to an injury sustained in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open cup match against MLS club Real Salt Lake in late May.