Stars FC, Strikers close out season series in front of USA Cup crowd tonight

Minnesota Stars FC face the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the fourth and final meeting between the two teams in the 2012 regular season at 7:30 p.m. tonight at NSC Stadium in Blaine.

With two wins and a draw against the Strikers this season, the Stars have already claimed the season series, but tonight’s game has much bigger ramifications for Minnesota than going undefeated against last year’s other North American Soccer League finalist.

“We hit the road three times after this, so this is a big game for us,” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said. “Fort Lauderdale has played better of late, although they’ve tied a couple games, they’ve had spells of dominance, so we’re ready for a battle tomorrow night. If we can combine the resiliency we showed in our last match with some good soccer on the field, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

The Stars will look for consistency as they round out a four-game homestand that began July 4 on the high of a dominant 4-0 win against the Puerto Rico Islanders before sinking to a low point in a 2-0 loss three days later against the Atlanta Silverbacks. They rebounded last Thursday by ending the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ four-game winning streak with a nervy 2-1

The Stars currently hold a game in hand over the Rowdies and Islanders, and a win Wednesday would give the Stars a very respectable nine points from their homestand and vault them past Tampa Bay and Puerto Rico into second place in the NASL.

Despite having no players in the NASL’s top 10 scorers, the Stars have plenty of options going forward, with Martín Núñez, Simone Bracalello and Amani Walker all tied for the team lead with four goals in league play this season. Through 16 games in 2012, the Stars have scored 24 goals, an average of 1.50 per game.

Nuñez in particular has been in scintillating form so far in July, tallying three goals in the first three games of the team’s homestand. Nuñez also played a crucial role in the Stars’ winning goal against Tampa Bay last Thursday, heading the ball off the post ahead of Kentaro Takada’s easy tap-in.

Continuing his good form against the Strikers would be special for Núñez, who arrived in Minnesota in a deal that sent center back Jack Stewart to Fort Lauderdale during preseason.

“I’ve been happy things are going my way, personally, as I try to help the team win,” Núñez said. “You get extra motivated playing against an old team and feel like you have something to prove.”

The Strikers have struggled in July so far and have yet to capture three points after conceding draws to San Antonio and Carolina, as well as a loss to archrival Tampa Bay. However, Fort Lauderdale is not without offensive weaponry in the form of forwards Mark Anderson and Andy Herron – both of whom boast seven goals on the season.

Anderson and Herron make the Strikers the only team to field two of the top-five NASL scorers, and further offensive firepower is located just behind them in the Fort Lauderdale midfield, where Walter Restrepo leads the NASL with six assists.

Despite a slow start in July, Fort Lauderdale is not without threatening players who Minnesota will have to contain to seize the three points at home and wrap up their season series against the Strikers with another three points.

Tonight’s match is the final Minnesota home game in July, as the Stars begin a three-week road voyage away to face Carolina, Puerto Rico and Edmonton.

The next Stars home match is Aug. 11 against current NASL leader San Antonio Scorpions, and tickets are available online at mnstarsfc.com or by calling 763-792-7355.

 

Game notes

The Stars are encouraging fans to allow extra travel time Wednesday. Construction on I-35W at Highway 10 is creating traffic delays, while the ongoing USA Cup has made parking at the National Sports Center more congested than usual.

The US Amputee Soccer Team will be holding a clinic Wednesday at 4 p.m. at “The Hub,” the large, grassy island in the middle of the NSC Stadium parking lot. The clinic is free to attend. Eric Westover, the US team’s goalkeeper, is a Twin Cities area native. The team will also be scrimmaging an able-bodied team in a demonstration match at halftime inside NSC Stadium.

The Anchor Food Truck will be serving fish and chips in the beer garden at the north end of the stadium.

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