Stars FC dome opener fizzles with scoreless draw

Despite out-shooting defending regular season champs 22-2, Minnesota can’t find a goal

Minnesota soccer fans saw both sides of what makes soccer a uniquely frustrating sport as Minnesota Stars FC settled for a 0-0 draw against Carolina in the home opener at Metrodome April 7.

A fan dressed as Nessy (in honor of the NSC) cheers along from the supporters section.
A fan dressed as Nessy (in honor of the NSC) cheers along from the supporters section.

The game featured the reigning league champion Stars against the current regular season champion Carolina Railhawks in what was called the Champions Challenge to kick off the North American Soccer League season.

Minnesota out-shot the orange-clad visitors 22-2 and forced goalkeeper Ray Burse to make eight saves. The crossbar made another save and the Stars missed a second-half penalty kick to keep the Railhawks’ hopes of a win alive.

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“The sport is cruel,” Stars FC coach Manny Lagos said after the frustrating result.

“Frustrated not able to put away those chances. I can tell you there are a lot of boring 0-0 games and this was not one of them.

Stars FC Forward Amani Walker, right, battles for the ball against a Carolina player April 7.
Stars FC Forward Amani Walker, right, battles for the ball against a Carolina player April 7.

“This was an amazing game with two teams who know each other well and battled really hard. We were the better team [Saturday] and the reality is that you don’t bury your chances you get a result like [Saturday].”

In the opening half, Stars midfielder Kentaro Takada had a dangerous shot early sail just wide of the goal and forward Amani Walker came inches from scoring as he redirected a crossing attempt by new midfielder Miguel Ibarra, who cut down the right touchline before sending the cross inside the penalty box.

Ibarra was in the mix at both ends of the field, making runs through open space on offense and disrupting passing lanes in the Stars end.

“As a rookie to come out and play the way he did was pleasant,” Lagos said about the Portland Timbers draftee who was released earlier this winter.

Simone Bracalello had several scoring chances in the first 45 minutes, but Burse either redirected the shot clear of goal or collected the ball from trouble for the Railhawks.

Carolina’s best scoring chance came from a Stars miscue when defenseman Justin Davis headed a pass back to goalie Matt VanOekel, who had to make a sprawling leap to push the ball over the crossbar and out of trouble.

The Stars’ defensive core of Christiano Diaz and captain Kyle Altman did its job containing a revamped Railhawks line-up.

The second half was filled with more excellent scoring chances for the Stars and midfielder Lucas Rodriguez played a role in two that stood out. First, he was taken down inside the Railhawks penalty box on a crossing attempt to set up a 72nd minute penalty kick. Neil Hlavaty stepped up to the penalty spot, but shot over the bar.
Hlavaty had seven goals for the Stars last season playing in 45 games. “I’m disappointed in myself to say the least,” he said.

Stars FC midfielder Neil Hlavaty, middle, tries to put a shot on goal during the first half April 7. Photo by Bill Jones

“It’s one of those things,” Lagos said. “You know it’s one of those nights and the reality is that’s how it goes.”

Then Rodriguez sent a bending shot round the far post from 20 yards out moments before being substituted for former Ft. Lauderdale Striker Martin Nunez in the 81st minute.

Lagos said there were a number of unknowns surrounding the game from the new faces on both benches to how the Stars would respond as defending champions and the pressures that come along with that.

“I’m proud of the guys because there was a lot put on their plate,” Lagos said.
Hlavaty was disappointed he let the fans down in the draw. “It definitely isn’t the best, but it was entertaining so something good came out of it,” he said. It’s mixed emotions.

Results like this happen and it’s important that we take away what we did well and do it again in Fort Lauderdale and at least take the three points.”

Dark Clouds bring the thunder
A diverse mix of fans ranging from young and old to boisterous and reserved welcomed the Stars to the centrally-located home opener which drew 8,693 fans. The Dark Clouds supporters’ chants, drums and trumpets could be heard in all corners of the dome as fans gathered primarily behind the Stars first-half attacking goal.

The supporters group unveiled a hand-made 1,200 square-foot tifo display before the game, a massive four-piece banner that symbolizes the team. The tifo included the Minneapolis skyline with a shooting star rising above with the Minnesota motto, “L’etoile du Nord.” It drew a lot of cheering from the rest of the crowd.

“The Dark Clouds showed up in force and were amazing. You cannot help but feel proud of Minnesota,” Lagos said. “The reality is and hopefully I’m not being overly emotional, but I should be because it was a special night and the guys walked off the field with their heads high because they did a great job.”

According to Hlavaty, it was great to walk out to that type of emotional reception of which included two Dark Cloud supporters who carried the NASL Soccer Cup trophy onto the field before the game.

Three days before the opener the Stars added three veterans to the roster, including Ethiopian native Fuad Ibrahim, who grew up in Richfield and was part of the United States Under-17 and Under-20 national team programs from 2006-10. He was part of the U.S. team that played in the 2007 U-17 World Cup in South Korea and 2010 Milk Cup in Northern Ireland and brings in four seasons of MLS experience after being drafted by FC Dallas as the second-youngest player in league history before joining Toronto FC from 2008-10. He has 12 goals in 52 youth international games.

The Stars also signed Shawn Chin, a former FC Edmonton defender, and former Rochester Rhinos defender Corbin Tobin, a 6-foot 2-inch center back who made 17 appearances with the USL Pro squad in 2011.

Minnesota travels to Fort Lauderdale April 14 followed by Edmonton April 22 and Atlanta April 28 before returning to the National Sports Center May 5 to face Atlanta. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.

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