The hopes of Minnesota Stars FC repeating as NASL Soccer Cup champions fell flat as it came up short during the second leg of finals series against the Tampa Bay Rowdies Oct. 27.
The home-and-home aggregate scoring series was decided by total goals in the two games. Minnesota won the first leg 2-0 thanks to a 90th-minute extra time goal by Martin Nunez at the National Sports Center Stadium Oct. 20. Tampa Bay won the Soccer Bowl on penalty kicks after winning the second game of the series 3-1 to erase the Stars lead.
Rowdies keeper Jeff Attinella made three penalty kick saves to secure the bowl.
Tampa Bay led 1-0 in the 24th minute and tied up the series shortly after halftime.
Stars substitute Lucas Rodriguez, also a Spring Lake Park assistant coach, slotted home a goal from Miguel Ibarra to make it 3-2 Stars on aggregate, but the Rowdies came back in the 85th minute to force extra time.
Minnesota had a player advantage after a Rowdies player was shown a red card after a challenge on Simone Bracelello.
Attinella, an NASL Best XI selection, made penalty kick saves on Devin Del Do, Kyle Altman and Rodriguez to secure the win.
Minnesota broke a scoreless tie in the 74th minute as Amani Walker redirected a pass from Bracelello, who collected his third assist of the playoffs.
The Stars defense came up huge to preserve a scoreless first half with Justin Davis, captain Kyle Altman, Connor Tobin and keeper Matt Van Oekel making standout plays.
Assistant coach Carl Craig said the first-leg result was promising. “Having that second goal is tremendous,” he said. “I’ll take three of four more, but the nice thing is now we have something to protect [when they play at Tampa Bay]. It’s easier to fight to keep that goal than need to go out and get something.”
“Kyle seems to really be on fire right now,” Craig said. “He comes through in the big game at the right time.”
Van Oekel took over goalkeeper duties this season after backing up Joe Warren since the days of the Minnesota Thunder.
Walker reflected on the last two seasons as simply magical. “We knew what we needed to do to get back here after what we went through last season, winning at Puerto Rico and we just played our hearts out,” he said.
Minnesota’s faithful, including the Dark Clouds, let their presence be known with noisemakers, flares and homemade signs played in front of an announced crowd of 4,642.
The Rowdies finished second in the regular season standings, while Minnesota squeaked into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in the field of seven teams.
Altman was named to the NASL Best XI squad and Van Oekel finished fifth in the league with a 1.20 goals against average and sixth in the league.
Jason Olson is at [email protected]