BLAINE, Minn. (Sept. 8, 2012) — Fan Appreciation Night nearly gave the 2,365 fans in attendance at NSC Stadium a playoff berth to celebrate, only for the last kick of the match to leave them waiting. Amani Walker scored his team-leading sixth goal for Minnesota Stars FC in the 19th minute, but Shaun Saiko scored deep into stoppage time to rescue a 1-1 draw for FC Edmonton as the Stars once again let a lead slip in the second half.
“That’s the excitement of the sport, but it hurts just because it looked like we had it and were about to get a win for the first time in a while,” bemused Stars head coach said after the match. “We moved the ball well, particularly in the first half, and we’re just at the point now where we’re looking for a positive moment to build on as we look to make the playoffs and hopefully make another good run.”
The good news for Minnesota is that it’s now eight points clear of both Edmonton and the Atlanta Silverbacks with only three games left to play, leaving probability very much on the Stars’ side in the race for the North American Soccer League playoffs. The Stars wrap up their home season Tuesday night at NSC Stadium against the Puerto Rico Islanders and have another chance to secure a playoff berth in front of their own fans before playing two straight on the road to wrap up the season.
Walker’s goal capped a positive first 20 minutes for the Stars. New signing Jamie Watson, who started and played all 90 minutes only three days after joining the club set left back Justin Davis free down the wing, and Davis’ low outswinging cross was an easy tap-in for Walker from six yards out. Walker has goals in back-to-back games for the Stars and now leads the team in both goals and assists.
Walker nearly added a second goal a few minutes later as he chipped Edmonton goalkeeper Lance Parker after winning a foot race to a loose ball, but the referee’s assistant held his flag aloft as the Stars were once again denied a goal at home on a close offside call. Walker had another golden opportunity in the 25th minute after Martin Nunez sent him in alone on goal, but Walker failed to test Parker as his shot drifted wide. Watson also had a great opportunity to score on his debut, but he skipped a volley wide of goal off a feed from Walker as the Stars couldn’t extend their lead.
Playing the first half into a stiff breeze, Edmonton’s best chance came from a set piece midway through the half. After a foul dead-center, Saiko sent a low shot through traffic from about 25 yards out, but Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel smothered the opportunity.
Playing into that same wind in the second half, the Stars struggled to create chances and the game became more even as Edmonton began to hold the ball for longer stretches, and Minnesota looked most dangerous on the counter, most notably right before the hour mark when Walker drove a volley wide off a feed from Davis.
As the half wore on, the Stars did well to limit Edmonton’s chances in front of goal, but the Canadian side found its feet just in time to keep its season alive a little longer. In the 90th minute, Saiko’s early cross found an unmarked Serisay Barthelemy at the penalty spot, but the French striker couldn’t put his header on goal. It was a warning shot the Stars didn’t heed, though, as deep into stoppage time, Bryan Arguez, who scored spectacularly here at NSC Stadium two weeks ago, laid a ball off for Saiko near the top of the box, and the Canadian attacker snuck a shot through a crowd and just under VanOekel’s crossbar to rescue a point for Edmonton.