CARY, N.C. (July 21, 2012) — Minnesota Stars FC couldn’t bounce back from an early goal and a four-hour rain delay Saturday night, falling 1-0 to the Carolina RailHawks at WakeMed Soccer Park in a match that almost wasn’t played to completion.Looking to rebound from a 2-1 loss on Wednesday night at NSC Stadium, the Stars made possession their priority early. Midfielder Michael Reed tried his luck after five minutes with a long-range shot that drifted well wide. When they gained control of the ball, the RailHawks moved forward with intent, and it took only 10 minutes for the counterattack to pay off, as Mike Palacio beat the offside trap and laid a low cross for Zack Schilawski to blast home from the top of the six-yard box to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
The Stars responded with two dangerous set pieces, as RailHawks goalkeeper Ray Burse was forced to collect a corner that bounced in the penalty area before Amani Walker headed a Daniel Wasson free kick just wide in the 14th minute. RailHawks defender Gale Agbossoumonde did well in the 19th minute to block Stars striker Amani Walker’s 10-yard shot off a feed from Miguel Ibarra.
Carolina began to sustain possession following those nervous moments, and began to generate chances as a result. Palacio tried to get his own name on the scoresheet in the 22nd minute, and nearly did so with a left-footed shot from the top of the box that drifted just wide. Three minutes later, VanOekel had to be quick to intercept a cross before an unmarked Schilawski could get a head to it inside the six-yard box.
As the heat and humidity in Cary began to set in, the early back-and-forth pace settled down and both teams began to build up their attacks more deliberately. Ibarra did well to take on a defender and cut the ball onto his left foot, but he curled his shot from the top of the penalty area just high and wide of the far post. With its ensuing possession, Carolina crafted a shot for Amir Lowery that was deflected wide for a corner the RailHawks couldn’t capitalize on.
The Stars’ best scoring chance of the first half came right before the halftime break. Michael Reed found Lucas Rodriguez behind the Carolina defense with an excellently weighted through ball, but with his momentum carrying him away from the goal, he couldn’t get enough power behind his left-footed shot, and Burse dove to his left to paw the shot away from danger and make his only save of the first half.
The second half didn’t last long before weather played a part. Less than three minutes into the period, the referee put a halt to the game as lightning encroached on WakeMed Soccer Park. The delay lasted more than four hours before play resumed despite the match’s official status when the pause began. Per NASL rules, a match becomes official after at least one minute of the second half is complete, but both coaches and the match referee must agree to abandon a game, which Stars head coach Manny Lagos said he refused to do for as long as possible while riding out the storm.
“It obviously would have benefitted Carolina to call it, because they would have won. Personally, I’d like to see 60 minutes completed before a game is declared official, but we wanted to sit through the storm to get back out there and try to erase the deficit,” he said.
Despite 40 minutes of solid pressure and improved play, the Stars couldn’t find an equalizer. Neil Hlavaty, on as a sub replacing Daniel Wasson drove a 25-yard shot wide into Burse’s arms in the 61st minute, then had a shot blocked a minute later. Reed shot from long-range again in the 63rd, but his drive went wide. A minute after that, Geison Moura wasted the Stars’ best move of the second half. A combination of one-touch passes put Moura through in space to the right of the Carolina goal, but he ballooned his shot high and wide.
The Stars played the final 13 minutes with a man advantage after RailHawks captain Kupono Low picked up his second yellow card in the 77th minute for arguing with the referee. The Stars came close to equalizing three minutes later as left-back Justin Davis mishit a cross that ended up bouncing off the crossbar and skipping out. Despite being on the back foot, the RailHawks defended resolutely in the game’s closing stages to close out the win and move to within two points of the Stars in the NASL standings.