SAN ANTONIO, Texas (June 2, 2012) — Minnesota Stars FC missed a chance to go top of the North American Soccer League table Saturday night, earning a 0-0 draw thanks to goalkeeper Matt VanOekel at Heroes Stadium against NASL newcomers San Antonio Scorpions FC. The Carolina RailHawks’ 2-1 win against the league-leading Puerto Rico Islanders opened the door for either the Stars or Scorpions to move into first place with a win. Instead, late game heroics from Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel
In 90-degree heat, the first half was reserved from both sides. The Stars made wholesale changes from a midweek win against Real Salt Lake in the US Open Cup, while San Antonio played mostly starters after defeating the Houston Dynamo at home on Tuesday night. Wes Knight and Aaron Pitchkolan brought easy saves out of Stars goalkeeper VanOekel, while Simone Bracalello was the primary threat going forward for Minnesota, drawing a couple blocks out of San Antonio defenders and hitting a long-effort right at Scorpions keeper Daryl Sattler.
The Stars lineup looked very similar to the one that tied the Tampa Bay Rowdies in Florida a week ago. The Stars face Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes on Tuesday night on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and head coach Manny Lagos chose to once again rest his minutes leaders as the team looks ahead to another long roadtrip. Despite the lineup shuffle, he was mostly pleased with his team’s first-half performance.
“It's been a busy schedule, and we've played a lot of games in a just few days, but that's our job,” he said at halftime. “Overall, I was pleased with some moments in the first half, but in the final third if we could be a little more dangerous, a little more creative we could be up a goal.”
The second half was much of the same, although San Antonio sustained pressure better than in the first half. Walter Ramirez brought a diving save out of VanOekel about halfway through the half. The Stars had a penalty shout turned down in the 75th minute as Devin Del Do collided with a Scorpions defender chasing a 50-50 ball just inside the goal area.
The 80th minute provided a bit of a flashpoint in an otherwise clean game. A winding run from substitute Martin Nunez ended with the ball played through to Del Do, who collided hard with Sattler in the pursuit of the ball. Players from both sides exchanged words, but ultimately it was Stars coach Lagos who found himself in the most trouble, sent from the bench in the aftermath of the incident.
Three minutes later, VanOekel made the first of four huge saves in the game’s late stages to save the point for the Stars. First, he came off his line to deny Pablo Campos on a breakaway from a through ball from Pitchkolan. In the 89th minute, he denied Campos twice more, first tipping a header around the post, then throwing himself in front of Campos’ shot at the back post from the subsequent corner kick. Finally, he threw himself across goal to redirect Campos’ free kick in the second minute of stoppage time.
“We talked at halftime about how we expected San Antonio to up the tempo in the second half and not to be fooled by the passive approach in the first half,” Stars assistant Carl Craig said after the game. “They came at us in the second half, and that opened the game up, but I think we’re happy with the point.”