BAYAMON, Puerto Rico (July 28, 2012) – Minnesota Stars FC continued a downward skid with a third consecutive loss Saturday night, falling 1-0 to the Puerto Rico Islanders under the lights at the Bayamon Soccer Complex in a match of two contradicting halves. After controlling nearly every aspect of the match in the first half, the Stars were outstripped by their island rivals in the second half just as decisively.
Islanders captain Noah Delgado rolled the only goal of the match past VanOekel in the 48th minute following a poor clearance by Minnesota, punishing the Stars for a sluggish start to the second half.
The Stars began the match with a dominant display of offensive possession and defensive power in the first half with eight corners, numerous set pieces, and strong one-touch soccer led by forwards Simone Bracalello and Martin Nunez and bolstered by the possession-first mentality of center midfielders Neil Hlavaty and Kentaro Takada.
After 45 minutes of play, Minnesota controlled 60 percent of play with strong short passing to feed dangerous offensive runs from defender Justin Davis and Nunez. The Stars wasted no time in opening their shot account in Bayamon, as Bracalello blasted his first touch over the bar in only the second minute. The Islanders struggled to establish sustained offensive possession early on in the first half as the first legitimate move on frame was a dangerous free kick from 40 yards taken by midfielder Josh Hansen in the 29th minute.
Pressed by a strong Minnesota offensive performance, defender Edson Edward made several vital defensive stops for Puerto Rico – from blocked crosses to sliding deflections. Headed into the locker room, Minnesota had every reason to be confident except the scoreline.
The second half appeared to be scripted from another story as the orange of Puerto Rico charged from the locker room with a dominant display, flipping the field on the Stars. Minnesota, once benefiting from triple the shots and corners of Puerto Rico in the first half, was now fighting to stem the flood of speedy orange counterattacks.
Puerto Rico would score the only goal of the match right after the half as Delgado benefitted from a poor headed clearance by Kyle Altman. Delgado slammed his first goal of the season past Stars keeper Matt VanOekel from the edge of the box in the 48th minute.
In the 56th minute, the Stars were finally able to string together a concerted offensive effort to a seek a counterattack – one that ended with the ball sailing high over Martin’s head and the goal after a high blast by Bracalello.
In the 59th minute, another defensive error forced VanOekel to stretch out a diving glove to deny Hansen in a one-on-one opportunity for the Islanders. The spectacular save prevented the Stars from conceding again, but more heroics were required from VanOekel. Moments later, the Stars flubbed a second defensive clearance and forward Jonathan Faña found himself in a breakaway of his own, but VanOekel got just enough of his shot to steer it clear of the goal.
As fatigue and anxiety continued to rise late for the Stars who were unable to recapture the passing accuracy exhibited in the first half, finally conceding the three points to an Islander team Minnesota defeated handily 4-0 at the beginning of the month.
“I think we played very well in the first half, and I’m proud of the guys,” Minnesota head coach Manny Lagos said. “I think we just lost some confidence from not finishing and putting the game away, and it’s unfortunate when things don’t go well.”
Minnesota was not without difficulties given the match’s physicality, as a late yellow card issued to Justin Davis will suspend him from play next Saturday in Edmonton. Midfielder Miguel Ibarra will also face a minimum of a one-week suspension after being shown a red card in the second minute of stoppage time.
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