Article by Doak Gips
It's the finals! We made it! This long journey we both started on has finally culminated in this. The second best team of the regular season taking on the team everyone said had no chance, but decided not to listen to you idiots, and is now on the cusp of winning a second straight North American Soccer League title from a sixth seed position. So, without further ado, game one of the finals!
Tampa Bay Rowdies vs. Minnesota Stars FC – Game 1
Show of hands(or twitter responses). How many of you had Minnesota pegged to go to the finals? Maybe one of you? Anyone besides a member of the Dark Clouds? Maybe one person who saw what happened last year and figured “what the hell, lighting can strike twice?”I certainly didn't see this happening, but here we are. The battle for the Soccer Bowl, with leg one taking place at NSC Stadium in Minnesota. If you were stunned that Minnesota made it, you would be equally not stunned that the Tampa Bay Rowdies were up against them. The best team in the second half of the season have made their intentions pretty clear, that they are here to win this thing. Now, what if I told you one team out-shot the other team 11-7 in the first half? If you would guess Tampa Bay, you clearly haven't read any of these recaps this year.
Well placed snark aside, Minnesota came out on fire, and proved they were not just lucky getting here, getting off three shots in the first ten minutes alone, with Orlando City loaned Jamie Watson providing a lot of the early setup for the offense. Although they were outshot, the Rowdies didn't have a lack of quality chances. One of their best chances came in the 27th minute, as Rowdies midfielder grabbed a loose ball and sent a rocket at Stars goalkeeper Matthew VanOekel, but he was able to deflect it away. It took until the 2nd half, but the Stars constant pressure finally broke the Rowdies, and it was Stars forward Amani Walker to do the trick. Actually, it wasn't much of a trick, it was a missile of a shot. Simone Bracalello played a pass in from wide to Walker who was coming into the middle of the field, and just ripped a one-timer past Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Antinella, who until then, had reverted to his “Great Wall of Antinella” form again. But the shot was too much for even “the Wall”, and the Stars were up 1-0.
The game looked to be headed for a 1-0 finish, which would suit the Rowdies just fine, but the Stars were having none of that. After Jamie Watson and company went forward deep into stoppage time, the Stars found themselves with a corner kick. Simone Bracalello sent the corner in, which found Stars defender Connor Tobin and his flick of the ball found Martin Nunez, who tapped it nicely by Antinella for goal number two on the night. While the goal was great, the celebration was better, as the whole team immediately ran to the Dark Clouds, Minnesota's supporter section, and started a group celebration right on the field.
It was an awesome sight to see, and the two goal cushion gives the Stars some serious momentum going into the second leg on the series. Tampa will not go down with a fight, and needing three goals to win ought to make for a real exciting game to watch. Make sure you all tune in this Saturday, at 7:30pm ET for the second leg.
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