MINNEAPOLIS (April 7, 2012)-In a game its head coach described as "cruel," Minnesota Stars FC was forced to accept a 0-0 draw with the Carolina RailHawks in front of a club record crowd to open the season in the Champions Challenge. Opening the 2012 North American Soccer League season as defending champions, the team wanted a home game and took no chances on Minnesota's unpredictable April weather, playing in downtown Minneapolis' Hubert H. Humphrey stadium in front of 8,693 fans.
The night began ceremoniously, as Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak welcomed the teams to the field and declared April 7 a day in honor of the Stars. Following his speech, the Dark Clouds, the Stars supporters' group, unfurled a four-section, 1,200 square foot banner depicting the Minneapolis skyline with a star rising from it.
"There's a cruel part of this sport when you play as well as you can and still can't find a way to get a goal. Certainly a big part of the game is finding goals and finishing," Stars head coach Manny Lagos said. "At the same time, when you come down to how hard this game is and how it's a game of inches, you have your moments where you think guys are going to execute, and it's not always your fault. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way and you run into a hot goalie, and it's tough."
The pregame energy clearly fed the Stars, who went on the attack immediately and did not let up. Unfortunately for the home side, a goal just wasn't in the cards. Kentaro Takada hooked a shot just wide, and Amani Walker side-footed a shot onto the post from a Miguel Ibarra cross, and Carolina goalkeeper Ray Burse made the first of his eight saves on the night, diving low and to his right to turn away a Simone Bracalello header from 10 yards out in the 35th minute. He made another fine four minutes later, this time diving to low his left to keep Walker's curling shot out of the bottom corner. At the other end, Matt VanOekel was forced into a save after one of his defenders nearly turned a cross into his own net, but the goalkeeper dove to tip the ball over the crossbar.
The second half brought more frustration for Minnesota, as Bracalello stung Burse's hands with a shot at the near post. The night's biggest frustration came in the 72nd minute, when Neil Hlavaty sent a penalty kick over the crossbar after Lucas Rodriguez had won a foul in the penalty area. The Stars responded with more pressure. Despite keeping Carolina's counterattack at bay, the Stars were unable to find the goal they deserved to cap the day's festivities at the Metrodome.
"It was one of our goals to keep them on their back foot and make them play. I think we accomplished a lot, it's just unfortunate that it didn't go quite as well as we wanted it to." Walker said following the match. "But it was extraordinary to get a crowd like this downtown and in the Metrodome, and it pushed us to play really well, and I hope this lets them see what Minnesota soccer is about and what it can be in the future."
“We defended very well, Ray Burse had a good game. Having a clean sheet on the road is not an easy task for the defense and the goalkeeper. Going forward we weren’t good enough with the ball, we will work on that this week,” said RailHawks Head Coach Colin Clarke. “We had our chances and we didn’t take advantage of them. It was positive result; we got a point and a clean sheet. Now we shift our attention to the home opener.”
Minnesota travels to Fort Lauderdale next week, while Carolina hosts Atlanta.