BLAINE, MINN (Aug 25, 2012) - For FC Edmonton, it was a must-win. For Minnesota Stars FC, it was a want-badly-to-win. Neither side got its way Saturday night in front of 2,427 fans at NSC Stadium in a back-and-forth match that ended in a 1-1 draw as Bryan Arguez’s second half goal for Edmonton canceled out defender Cristiano Dias’ first goal in two seasons with the Stars. The result sees the Stars slip into sixth place but remain well clear of Edmonton and the Atlanta Silverbacks, who are running out of time to make up the gap on the playoff-chasing sides ahead of them.
“I can’t remember, it’s been a while,” the Brazilian center back said after the game when asked when he last scored. “We had a corner kick go out and it was cleared out of bounds for the throw in, and I stayed. I said, ‘Let’s take a chance,” and Brian Kallman did his long throw in. That throw helps a lot, we’ve seen it before.”
Dias’ first goal in Minnesota colors came in the 17th minute. Kallman’s long throw in from the right wing fell at Dias’ feet, and although his initial shot was blocked, the loose ball fell for Amani Walker, who dropped it back to Dias to finish into the side netting from eight yards out, ending a run of 243 scoreless minutes for the Stars.
The goal was deserved after the Stars started the game on the front foot. Starting on the left wing in place of Lucas Rodriguez, Kevin Venegas couldn’t test Edmonton goalkeeper Lance Parker when he went clean through on goal in the sixth minute, slicing an awkward looking shot well wide of the goal. Walker could have doubled the lead in the 28th minute after Parker couldn’t punch a cross clear, but the Stars forward couldn’t direct his follow up header on frame.
Edmonton, who sits seven points behind the Stars and out of the playoff picture with five matches to play in the North American Soccer League, might have been lucky not to be behind by more than a goal midway through the first half, but the Eddies began applying pressure of their own as a sliding Kyle Porter couldn’t quite find the final touch on a low cross before Paul Craig and Arguez drove shots just wide of the goal from outside the area.
The Stars turned the field around and asked most of the questions early in the second half, as Miguel Ibarra had a goal waved off for offside at the hour mark a minute before being denied by Parker with a shot at the near post. A minute later it was Walker who wasted a breakaway, shooting high and wide in a one-on-one situation with Parker.
At the other end, VanOekel saved well from a Porter shot in the 67th minute, but he was powerless to stop Arguez’s 74th minute equalizer. Stars captain Kyle Altman made a fantastic all-or-nothing challenge on Serisay Barthelemy in the penalty area, but his clearance fell to Arguez 30 yards out and in the center of the field. Setting himself up with his first touch, Arguez crushed a 25-yard strike into the top corner to save the point for Edmonton.
The action wasn’t over, though, as both clubs pushed for and nearly found a gamewinner. The Stars had a penalty claim denied in the 78th minute when Martin Nunez’s shot appeared to be blocked by an outstretched arm. VanOekel made two big saves within 30 seconds of each other in the 86th minute as Edmonton countered, but the best chance for a gamewinner fell to Miguel Ibarra, who beat Parker to a loose ball at the top of the penalty area but could only find the upright from a very tight angle as he looked to convert on the empty net.
“There’s a mental side of this game where certainly confidence comes into play, and certainly we could all feel it on the field tonight—the tension when we were up a goal and maybe should have had a couple more—then we didn’t have our best second half, and the next thing you know, we drop some points again at home,” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said. “We’ve got to get back at it, look at it as a glass half full, and find a way to get three points at home next week against a very good San Antonio team.”
“We started out slowly and conceded a goal, but gained control as the half went on,” said Edmonton Head Coach Harry Sinkgraven at the half. “In the beginning it wasn’t good enough, but we know what we have to do in the second half and we will execute.”