Thursday, October 18, 2012

NASL Recaps – Semi-Finals Edition

Article by Doak Gips

I know, I know, you're all wondering where your recaps went last week. I'm sorry. I took a week long vacation into sick-ville. It sounds cool, because you get to stay home from work/school and do whatever you want. Don't believe the hype! It's an awful place, where you take like four naps a day(that part was cool) and feel just awful, with things like fever, chills, and possibly vomiting. Seriously kids, take your vitamins, and stay safe out there. It's just about flu season, so if you haven't gotten your shots, you probably should grab one of those too. But enough with the public service announcements, because you're here for soccer, and so am I. So let's talk about the semi-final round, shall we?

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Carolina Railhawks – Game 1

The first leg in this first semi-final series put the number four seeded Carolina Railhawks at home against the number two seed Tampa Bay Rowdies, with 3,183 in attendance at WakeMed Soccer Park. They may have been the four seed coming into this match, but the Railhawks had been playing extremely well as of late, only losing in the month of September to the Scorpions, and drawing the Rowdies twice late in the season. That play carried over into a first half that was dominated by the Railhawks. Carolina assaulted the Rowdies goal, getting a total of nine shots, while the Rowdies could only manage two in the first half. Most of that assault came from a Mr. Ty Shipalane, who was either creating the offense for someone else to miss the shot, or missing the shot himself. Sadly, there's nothing good about nine shots with zero goals, and the Rowdies, being the very good team that they are, finally took advantage of this in 63rd minute in the second half. 

Rowdies midfielder Shane Hill played a through ball to forward Mike Ambersley, who received it right outside the box and took it right and lightly curved it around Railhawks goalkeeper Ray Burse to make it 1-0 for the away team. The Rowdies weren't done though, as they decided it was becoming too easy, and gave the Railhawks a penalty in the 76th minute. Even looking at multiple times, there's no way the foul by Rowdies defender Andres Arango wasn't a penalty, and Railhawks forward Brian Shriver regained some confidence after some early misses by converting the penalty kick to bring the game level. Unfortunately for the Railhawks, who had been playing some fine defense until then, made one critical lapse that cost them the goal in the 85th minute. Rowdies midfielder Evans Frimpong played a nice cross in, and when a Railhawks defender forgot to mark Daniel Antoniuk, the Railhawks sealed their fate, losing the opening leg at home 2-1.

Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Carolina Railhawks – Game 2

The return leg of this series at Al Lang, was setup for excitement, as the Railhawks needed goals, while the Rowdies wanted to bury Carolina's hopes early, and not leave them with any chance of coming back. With 4,132 Rowdies fans in attendance, the Rowdies were able to do exactly...absolutely nothing. Seriously, they came out flat again. The first goal on the night scored by Carolina was actually scored on the counter, as Railhawks midfielder Floyd Franks went streaking(not literally, but he's seriously fast) down the field, and played it forward to also streaking Railhawks forward Matt Luzunaris, who was able to poke it Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Antinella. Less than five minutes later, the Railhawks...well...I'm not sure I can even give them the goal on this one. 

The score sheet says Ty Shipalane, and it goes down in the books as a goal for him. But, in what is probably a giveaway worse than you'd see on your weekday rec league, Rowdies defender JP Rodrigues tried to play the ball back to Antinella with Shipalane on his back. He barely tapped the ball though, and Shipalane jumped by him and one-timed it right by Antinella. But certainly Shipalane did not want to make it too easy for the Railhawks, right? Right. So naturally, in the 39th minute, when Rowdies forward Mike Ambersley found his way into the box, Shipalane just had to go rumbling right into him and knocking him down for the easy PK call. The ensuing PK was converted by Rowdies midfielder Shane Hill to bring the game 2-1, and to bring the aggregate to 3-3 at halftime. The Rowdies did not come out flat in the second half though, and went up 4-3 on aggregate early in the second half. After some bouncing around the hot box by both the ball and Rowdies players, the ball fell to Ambersley, who knocked it past Ray Burse. 

The Rowdies assault continued, as they had 5 shots between goals in the second half, including another by Ambersley that hit the post, and came right back out to Luke Mulholland who cleaned up the mess and put the Rowdies up 5-3 on aggregate. The Railhawks tried to come back and make it interesting, scoring on a penalty kick in the 87th minute on a handball by the Rowdies in the penalty box, which brought it to 5-4, but could not find the back of the net after that. The win advanced the Rowdies to the NASL Soccer Bowl, where they awaited the winner of the Minnesota Stars and San Antonio Scorpions series.

San Antonio Scorpions vs. Minnesota Stars FC – Game 1

On paper, this looks like a mismatch. The Scorpions are the number one team in the league, and have been nearly all year. The Stars on the other hand, have been up and down, and well, mostly down. But they had always played the Scorpions well this season, with three draws, and only one loss. That being said, most expecting San Antonio to be able to pull away in this series. Game one of this series was held at NSC Stadium with 2,006 Stars fans in attendance, and the game played out to another draw, this one ending 0-0. As with all these 0-0 draws though, it's usually not for a lack of trying, and there was no lack on this night. In fact, both teams had shots in the first few minutes of the game, as Stars forward Simone Bracalello had a shot that was blocked and Scorpions forward Pablo Campos hit a rocket of a shot about a minute later that was just outside of Matthew Van Oekel's goal. 

The shots continued with the Stars managing seven to the Scorpions five shots in the first half. Both teams played a bit more timid in the second half, only managing 8 shots between the both of them, still Minnesota worked for a goal but could not find one. One of their better opportunities came in the 61st minute, when Amani Walker found Simone Bracalello coming up the right side of the field, who cut in and got a clean shot, but could only force Scorpions goalkeeper Daryl Sattler into an easy save. The 0-0 draw setup the series for a winner take all game the following week in San Antonio.

San Antonio Scorpions vs. Minnesota Stars FC – Game 2

Since the first game ended 0-0, the return leg in San Antonio ended up being a winner-take-all scenario. This would favor San Antonio, being in front of its' large home crowds, and having played on its home turf(literally) all season long. So, with a home crowd of 6,249 behind it at Heroes Stadium, the Scorpions disappointed all their fans, and lost 2-1. Actually, the blame doesn't fall on the team. Credit the Stars for being persistent and not wavering in their attack after going up a man in the 27th minute. Prior to that, the Scorpions went up 1-0 on the foot of Pablo Campos, who cleaned up the mess that was created by Hans Denissen in front of the box. But Campos decided that simply winning a free kick wasn't enough, and in the 27th minute, gave a headbutt to Stars defender Kyle Altman, which warranted an immediate red card, and forced the Scorpions to play defensive for the rest of the game. 

This would prove costly. The Stars would equalize late in the second half, as a dangerous cross from Stars midfielder Neil Hlavaty played a dangerous cross into the box, which Scorpions defender Blake Wagner could only get enough on to send into the back of his own net, drawing the game level at 1-1. The Stars completed the comeback in the 82nd minute, as a rip of a shot by Stars forward Simone Bracalello beat Sattler, and finished off the Scorpions for good.
With the following results, the Minnesota Stars host the first leg of the NASL Soccer Bowl against the Tampa Bay Rowdies this weekend, with the Rowdies hosting the return leg. The Rowdies won the season series against the Stars, with two wins, one tie and one loss. The Rowdies also lead the Stars in goal differential from the regular season series, five to three.

I would really like to know what you all think of Pablo Campos rather headbutt this past weekend, so find me on twitter @DoakGips, will you?

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