BLAINE, Minn. (Oct. 6, 2012)—There will be all to play for next Sunday night when Minnesota Stars FC and the San Antonio Scorpions face off again in their two-leg, total-goals semifinal series. The Stars and Scorpions played to a physical 0-0 draw in front of 2,006 fans at NSC Stadium on a cold October night. The teams meet again next Sunday at 6 p.m. at Heroes Stadium with the winner advancing to the North American Soccer League championship series.
Saturday’s encounter was physical from the outset, with the Stars looking to match a bigger Scorpions team for physicality. Despite unfamiliar cold, San Antonio started the livelier of the two sides in a game that featured very few clear-cut chances thanks to two well-organized defenses.
“It’s a playoff game, so the intensity is going to be a lot higher, and the first 20 minutes they came out and were a lot more physical than us. They were first to the ball, and I think it kind of took us that epiphany moment where we needed to realize that we needed to match their physicality, and when we could do that, we could start playing some soccer,” Stars captain Kyle Altman said.
That physicality kept chances few and far between, and what chances did emerge were either straight to the goalkeepers, off target or blocked in traffic. The Stars outshot the Scorpions 12-8 for the night, but each keeper was only called upon to make four saves.
The biggest two came late, at either end, and within minutes of each other as both teams pressed for a goal to take to San Antonio. Stars defender Brian Kallman played a perfect through ball to Amani Walker, the team’s leading goal scorer, but Scorpions keeper Daryl Sattler was off his line quickly to take away Walker’s space.
The Scorpions cleared the ensuing corner quickly to launch a counterattack of their own, which saw NASL leading scorer Pablo Campos set free on a breakaway with Stars midfielder Lucas Rodriguez nipping at his heels. Rodriguez—a head shorter and much lighter than Campos—did just enough to slow him down and force him into an extra touch, and Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel got a leg on Campos’ shot from about eight yards out.
In the end, the inability to find a goal was a source of some frustration, Stars Head Coach Manny Lagos said after the game, but with a crew of experienced players leading San Antonio to a very atypical inaugural season, the Stars are in position to be successful in the away leg.
“At times we got stretched and they got chances, but I’m proud of the guys because it’s never an easy game when you’re playing against a good team and you want to try to get a goal at home to have an advantage going into that second leg,” Lagos said. “We were hoping to take advantage of that home field advantage, but if you look over the roster of their players, they have an infinite amount more playoff experience than my roster, so in terms of playoff experience, they’re really heads above, but that’s why I’m so proud of our guys.”
"This home-and-home series is like one big game and the important thing was to come out of this game well-positioned heading home," Scorpions Head Coach Tim Hankinson said. "Every game between us is going to be tight and they are a dangerous team. Hopefully we'll have some more goals in San Antonio."