SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Sept. 23, 2012) — With the regular season North American Soccer League championship all sewn up, the San Antonio Scorpions had little to play for but pride and form Sunday night against Minnesota Stars FC at Heroes Stadium in San Antonio. Despite a lackluster first half, the Stars battled back in the second half to earn a 1-1 draw to build upon as the league’s playoffs get underway.
Losers of two straight, the Scorpions were looking to right the ship before sitting through their first-round playoff bye week. For the Stars, the door was open to finish in fifth place and travel to Carolina with a win. Instead, the teams shared the points, and the Stars finished in sixth place to clinch a trip to Puerto Rico in the single-elimination first round of the postseason.
“Both teams are preparing for the playoffs, so I was disappointed with our display in the first half,” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said after the game, “but I thought our performance in the second half was much better, much more indicative of the kind of soccer we’ve played all year.”
NASL leading scorer Pablo Campos got the Scorpions off to a perfect start in the eighth minute with his 20th goal of the season, tying the new NASL’s single-season record. After blocking a dangerous looking free kick, the Stars couldn’t recover their shape as Ryan Cochrane fed Campos near the penalty spot for an easy finish past an onrushing Mitch Hildebrandt.
Hildebrandt was starting his second straight game for the Stars after Lagos opted to give Matt VanOekel a rest as a precaution after the regular starter suffered a slight injury Sept. 11 in a win against Puerto Rico. Lagos used the opportunity to rest several of his regular starters, defenders Brian Kallman and Justin Davis and midfielder Kentaro Takada, who were all within one yellow card of picking up a suspension for the opening round of the playoffs.
The Stars responded to the goal with improved possession, but failed to threaten Scorpions keeper Daryl Sattler throughout the remainder of the first half. With the one-goal advantage, the Scorpions seemed largely content to concede possession to Minnesota and make it difficult for the Stars in the attacking third, relying instead on the counterattack in the search for an insurance goal. Campos forced a diving save out of Hildebrandt in the 39th minute with a header off a Walter Ramirez cross.
The Scorpions started the second half looking for another goal and saw three great opportunities go begging. First, Hildebrandt dove low to punch an in-swinging Denissen free kick away, then Campos and Ramirez sent shots off target within minutes of each other. The Denissen free kick was perhaps the costliest of the opportunities, as the foul that set it up earned Kevin Venegas—one of two Stars players playing with four yellow cards for the season—a caution, meaning he will be suspended from the Stars’ first round match in the playoffs.
For their part, the Stars looked more aggressive with the ball after replacing forward Nate Polak with Simone Bracalello and center midfielder Michael Reed with Shawn Chin. Bracalello in particular brought energy to the attack, sending a shot wide about 10 minutes in before battling hard on the wing to set up an opportunity for a cross.
Bracalello started the move that led to the Stars pulling even. He drew a foul 28 yards from goal and brought a save out of Sattler with his shot. As the Scorpions attempted to clear, the Stars whipped it back into the area, where Kevin Friedland blocked an attempted clearance at the goal line and saw it bounce into the side netting for his first goal of the season.
Having tied the game, it was the Stars who seemed the most likely to snatch a late winner. They nearly did so through substitute Connor Tobin, but his deflection of a Bracalello free kick was waved off for offside.