BLAINE, Minn. (July 7, 2012) — Riding high after a 4-0 win on Wednesday, the Minnesota Stars entered Saturday's match with the Eric Wynalda led Atlanta Silverbacks with a chance to climb to second in the North American Soccer League standings. Instead, the Silverbacks came into NSC Stadium and walked away with their second win of the season, a 2-0 triumph that marked the first time Atlanta has scored—let alone win—in Minnesota since coming back from hiatus in 2011.
The win was Atlanta’s first under Wynalda, and forward Jahbari Willis had two assists in an outstanding professional debut. The Stars record fell to six wins, five ties and four losses.
“Credit to them. Atlanta wanted it. They have a new coach who’s assessing their level of play,” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said after the game. “They got a goal, and instead of getting better or raising our intensity, we couldn’t match Atlanta, they got a second, and that was the game. It was a game where we didn’t want it as much as the other team.”
Putting out the same starting lineup that trounced the Puerto Rico Islanders 4-0 on Wednesday night, the Stars started poorly. In the ninth minute, Silverbacks forward Matt Horth beat the offside trap on a feed from Jahbari Willis, who was playing his first professional game. Horth made no mistake from close range as the Stars defense stood with its hands in the air appealing for a call that would not come.
The goal seemed to wake the Stars. Simone Bracalello drew a corner kick and a short time later set up Martin Nunez for a header that he sent agonizingly wide in the 15th minute. Defender Justin Davis drew a diving save out of Silverbacks goalkeeper Daniel Illyes with a low shot from the top of the box in the 21st minute.
After sustaining the Stars’ pressure, Atlanta pushed forward with two good chances of its own. Ciaran O’Brien sent a 35-yard free kick just over the crossbar in the 27th minute, and Willis sent a glancing header just wide after a half hour.
After drawing a foul in the 42nd minute, Bracalello curled a 35-yard free kick of his own on goal, but Illyes moved to his left to hold the curling shot. The chance represented the last good one for either side in the first half, and the teams went to the locker room with Atlanta holding a 1-0 lead.
Atlanta mounted some pressure in the early minutes of the second half but was unable to put a shot on frame to challenge Stars keeper Matt VanOekel. The Stars responded with a blocked shot and two set piece opportunities, but, like the visitors, were unable to find a way through on goal.
Horth could have doubled his tally in the 57th minute after beating Ernest Tchoupe to a ball over the top. Despite having space to take a touch before shooting, Horth rushed a one-timer right at VanOekel. Immediately at the other end, Hlavaty fed Nunez, but the Uruguayans shot was weakly hit and Illyes saved it easily. In the 60th minute, Hlavaty had a go of his own, but a deflection took the sting out of his shot, and Illyes reacted to the change in direction to hold the ball.
Unable to make a breakthrough, the Stars brought Amani Walker off the bench in the 68th minute to replace Miguel Ibarra. The night got worse for Minnesota four minutes later, as captain Kyle Altman limped off with a groin injury, replaced by Cristiano Dias.
In the 75th minute, Atlanta effectively ended the contest. Willis muscled through a Hlavaty tackle in midfield and played it through to Borfor Carr, who chipped the ball over the onrushing VanOekel’s shoulder to make it 2-0.
With their backs completely against the wall, the Stars went for broke. Nunez had a close-range effort blocked by a defender, drawing a corner, right before Devin Del Do entered the game in the 78th minute for Kentaro Takada, giving the Stars four forwards on the field. The attacking options couldn't make a breakthrough, though, as the Stars fell at home for only the second time this season.