EDMONTON, Alberta (August 4, 2012) — Missed chances to put the game away cost Minnesota Stars FC two points on the road Saturday night, but a 1-1 draw against FC Edmonton was enough to see the team end a three-game losing streak and move into fourth place in the North American Soccer League.
The game presented tough lineup choices for both sides, as the Stars were without usual left back Justin Davis and speedy winger Miguel Ibarra, who both missed the game due to suspension. Edmonton coach Harry Sinkgraven chose not to dress Shaun Saiko, who with five goals and five assists has had a hand in two-thirds of the Eddies goals this season.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with Edmonton attacking down the outsides and the Stars content to counterattack and look for opportunities on set pieces. Edmonton outshot Minnesota 9-6 in the half, although none of the Eddies’ six shots on goal seriously tested Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel. At the other end, Edmonton goalkeeper Lance Parker made the best save of the half in the 24th minute, diving to his left to tip Simone Bracalello’s 20-yard shot around the near post.
The half looked heading to a scoreless break, but it was Edmonton mistakes that helped the Stars stake themselves to a halftime lead and score on the road for the first time since June 9. In the 40th minute, Jonathan Joseph-Augustin scuffed a header back to Parker, putting Bracalello through to send a side-footed one-time shot over the bar. Four minutes later, there was no let-off for Augustin, as he got his feet crossed trying to drop a clearance to Parker, and Martin Nunez latched onto the mistake to go clear through and score his fifth goal of the year on the break.
Bad luck and harassing defending cost Edmonton a chance to pull themselves level early in the second half. Yashir Pinto headed a cross down for Serisay Barthelemy, who attempted to set himself up for a bicycle kick, but he whiffed on his attempt. The ball bounced kindly for Pinto, but the Edmonton forward scuffed his shot as well, giving the Stars a chance to clear.
Following the opportunity, the Stars shifted tactics, looking to hold the ball for longer periods and attack Edmonton down the outside with Bracalello and Nunez popping up on the wings and looking for delayed runs from Minnesota’s three-man midfield of Neil Hlavaty, Kevin Venegas and Lucas Rodriguez.
Heroic defending from veteran defender David Proctor kept the Stars from doubling their lead in the 57th minute. After cutting in from the right wing, Nunez played Bracalello through on goal, but Proctor made up ground on the Stars’ Italian forward and slid at the top of the penalty box to block Bracalello’s attempt out for a corner kick.
Good work from Bracalello set Neil Hlavaty up at the top in the 65th minute with a chance to make it 2-0. Right back Brian Kallman found Nunez on the right wing. Nunez moved the ball inside the box to Kevin Venegas, who laid it off for Bracalello before Hlavaty arrived at the top of the penalty area to drive a shot high and wide.
Substitute Geison Moura, who replaced Nunez in the 82nd minute nearly made an instant impact, as Parker had to dive well to his right to deny his header off a Venegas cross two minutes later as the Stars continued to create the best chances for the game’s second goal despite dropping into their more familiar 4-4-2 formation with the introduction of holding midfielder Kentaro Takada with 20 minutes to play. Venegas made a chance of his own in the 87th minute, cutting in from the right side of the penalty area before driving a left-footed shot right at Parker from about 12 yards out.
Despite their second-half dominance, it was another defensive mistake created the game’s second goal, and it was Edmonton who benefitted, leaving Minnesota to rue their missed chances to put the game away in the second half. Midfielder Bryan Arguez found substitute Michael Cox behind Stars defender Ernest Tchoupe, and despite a great save by VanOekel on the breakaway, the rebound bounced off Tchoupe’s shinguard and trickled over the line in the 88th minute to pull the scores level.
The game ended on a scary note for Minnesota, as Moura collided at midfield with Edmonton captain Paul Hamilton, who arrived late and went head-to-head with the Stars’ Brazilian midfielder, who was forced from the game, also leaving the Stars down to 10 men having just used their final substitution a minute earlier with the introduction of Devin Del Do.
There would be no late heroics on this night for the Stars, as the referee ended the game 1-1 after an uneventful spell of stoppage time.