They may be the lowest seed, but they're not going down without a fight.
NASL defending champions Minnesota will defend their Soccer Bowl title after shocking the No. 1-seed San Antonio Scorpions in dramatic fashion on Sunday night. They will host the first game of the two-leg series against the Tampa Bay Rowdies (Sat., Oct. 20 at 7:30 pm ET), who took care of Carolina in the other semifinal barnburner.
San Antonio Scorpions 1, Minnesota Stars 2
A straight red card to NASL Golden Boot winner Pablo Campos in the 26th minute proved the downfall for San Antonio. After putting the Scorpions up 1-0 in the series (the teams played to a scoreless draw in the opener on Oct. 6), Campos promptly retaliated with a head butt to Stars defender Kyle Altman directly in front of the referee, leading to a red card and the end of his night.
Down a goal and up a man, the defending champions Minnesota Stars pressed, and their persistence finally paid off on a Blake Wagner own-goal in the 76th minute when he deflected the ball into his own net after a cross from Stars midfielder Neil Hlavaty.
Minnesota kept the momentum and took the lead five minutes later when Simone Bracalello placed a powerful shot past 2012 Golden Glove winner Daryl Sattler. Bracalello’s go-ahead goal made it 2-1, a score that held until the final whistle.
San Antonio brought on the likes of MLS' all-time goals leader Jeff Cunningham, but the 10-man Scorpions were unable to threaten Matt Van Oekel’s net.
“In the locker room, we knew we could come back into the game,” Bracalello said. “They were a man down, and we always work hard. We have this reaction all the time. We have a good spirit, and we never give up. We’re not a lot of big stars, but we always fight for each other.”
Tampa Bay Rowdies 3, Carolina RailHawks 3
A topsy-turvy 3-3 draw with the RailHawks sent the Rowdies into the finals by a 5-4 aggregate. Tampa Bay won the series opener 2-1 on Oct. 6.
Carolina were fast out the gate and jumped ahead thanks to goals by on-loan Orlando City striker Matt Luzanaris and Ty Shipalane in the first 20 minutes.
Down two goals, Tampa Bay’s comeback began in the 39th minute when Mike Ambersley was brought down inside Carolina’s box. Shane Hill stepped up and converted the PK and tying the score on aggregate.
The Rowdies continued to press after the break and Luke Mulholland assisted on a 65th-minute goal by Mike Ambersley before supplying a goal of his own in the 84th. Mulholland’s goal put an already raucous crowd at Al Lang Stadium into anxious elation.
A late penalty kick goal in the 86th minute by former Red Bulls and Union midfielder Nick Zimmerman threatened Mulholland’s series winner, but the hosts held on to book their ticket to the finals.
Luke Lohr covers the NASL for MLSsoccer.com