Our NASL coverage continues with recaps from this past weekend’s first semifinal round of playoff action.
Minnesota Stars 0, San Antonio Scorpions 0
In 2011, Minnesota grabbed the final playoff berth on the last weekend of the season, then tore through the playoffs en route to the inaugural NASL title.
They're hoping for a reprise in 2012, right down to the letter, and gave themselves a shot by holding the heavily favored, No. 1 seeded Scorpions to a scoreless draw in the first leg of the semifinals.
San Antonio's Pablo Campos, the Golden Boot winner, was largely neutralized in what was a fast and physical affair. The Stars kept him bracketed all night, and goalkeeper Matt VanOekel only had to make one outstanding save – coming off his line to stop Campos on a breakaway late in the game.
San Antonio’s Daryl Sattler also put in a solid shift in goal. Like VanOekel he showed his best in shutting down a late breakaway, stuffing Amani Walker for the most dramatic of his four saves.
“We were hoping to take advantage of that home field advantage,” said Stars head coach Manny Lagos. “But if you look over the roster of their players, they have an infinite amount more playoff experience than my roster.”
The second leg of the home-and-home semifinal series will be completed at Heroes Field in San Antonio, where the Scorpions are expected to draw a crowd of more than 10,000. The match is scheduled for Sunday at 8 pm ET.
Carolina RailHawks 1, Tampa Bay Rowdies 2
Tampa Bay were the hottest team in the league down the stretch, nearly pipping San Antonio for the No. 1 seed. They kept that form alive in the first leg at Carolina, extending their unbeaten run to seven matches with a huge 2-1 away win.
After weathering an early string of RailHawks chances, the Rowdies final leapt ahead in the 63rd minute. Forward Mike Ambersley collected a brilliant feed from midfielder Shane Hill and slotted a shot into the side netting, stunning the home crowd at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
Brian Shriver equalized for Carolina with a penalty kick in the 78th minute after midfielder Floyd Franks was taken down in the box, though replays showed the contact to be negligible. Tied 1-1, both sides pressed for a winner with Tampa Bay reaping the rewards.
It was rookie sub Evans Frimpong who crafted the winner, breaking free in Carolina’s defensive third to cross for veteran Daniel Antoniuk in the 85th minute. Antoniuk made no mistake, and Tampa Bay locked the lead down for the 2-1 final.
For Carolina, it was a night of missed chances, as they took 17 shots to the Rowdies' nine. Carolina held a 6-1 edge in corner kicks, but were unable to make them count.
“Tonight we played a good game, but didn’t finish our chances,” said Carolina head coach Colin Clarke. “We dominated much of the game, passed the ball well, created chances…but we didn’t finish and that cost us the game. We still have 90 minutes, and we are going to work on finishing up our chances.”
With their five-game unbeaten run snapped, Carolina must now travel to Tampa Bay a goal down on aggregate. The second leg will be played Saturday at Al Lang Stadium at 7:30 pm ET.