NSC Minnesota holds off Fort Lauderdale to lift first NASL championship



FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – NSC Minnesota Stars just could not beat the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers during the regular season, losing twice and tying twice in four matches.

Unfortunately for the Strikers, that trend didn't continue in the NASL Championship Series.

The Stars lifted the NASL championship trophy in front of 6,849 fans on a rainy Saturday night at Lockhart Stadium, winning the series 3-1 on aggregate following a scoreless draw in the second leg.

"It's such a moment for the (players)," said Stars head coach Manny Lagos, who danced and sang with his team and a dozen traveling fans in the southwest corner of the field after the game. "I wanted to share with them because they've been so amazing this year, credit to them."

Minnesota, which entered the playoffs as the sixth and final seed, was able to hold tight defensively against a Strikers side that dominated possession from the opening whistle but could not translate that into clear chances.

Looking to erase a two-goal deficit, the Strikers were limited to just one shot on goal in the game. The Stars' strategy of clogging the middle of the field and forcing the hosts down the flanks worked, as a plethora of crosses resulted in no threatening opportunities.

"I think we could've been playing all night and we still wouldn't have scored," said Strikers defender Martyn Lancaster. "Credit to Minnesota, they defended like lions tonight, made it really difficult for us and we just couldn't get a break."

The gameplan worked so well for Minnesota that the visitors could have put the series away earlier. The Stars had a handful of chances to add to its aggregate lead because of sloppy passing on the wet field, but Lancaster, Toni Stahl and Bryan Arguez put out several potential fires.

Offensively, though, the Strikers could not figure out how to break down the Stars' stingy defense and that allowed for frustration to settle in.

"Certainly, we were cognisant of they have some players that are very good in the middle of the field, that are very skilled, that can get the ball, get penetrating passes," said Lagos. "They've got some guys who make good darting runs, so we wanted to make sure that we kept our shape so that when they (penetrated), we had guys to deal with those good players."

Ft. Lauderdale found some life when it inserted midfielder Yoximar Granado and forward Abe Thompson in the second half. That was too little too late, however, for a team that deployed two smaller forwards in Brian Shriver and Martin Nunez to start the game. Shriver and Nunez actively looked for the ball in the game, but their height disadvantage against defenders Cristiano Dias and Brian Kallman was apparent as the Strikers sent in cross after cross with no success.

"When you have a two-goal lead, you can put numbers behind the ball and they didn't really care about scoring tonight and they didn't have to," said Ft. Lauderdale head coach Daryl Shore. "Had we got the first goal, maybe it would've opened them up. We put ourselves in a hole in the first game, and just a tough night for us to play."

The defeat ended the Strikers' first season back as a franchise on a sour note, but it also capped the improvement that Minnesota's players demonstrated in the tail end of the season.

"I'm happy for them because it's very rare to win championships," said Lagos, "and they are champions."

  • WeatherManNX01

    6849 is the tickets sold, not an actual attendance. No way there were almost 7000 people in that stadium last night.

    That’s why Miami is unlikely to get an MLS team in the near future. They are literally fair-weather fans.


  • Tomas10

    Were you at the game? There was 7K last night who braved the storms for a SECOND DIVISION FINAL.

    Not as good as Orlando did, but still a good turnout, especially considering the flooded streets and on-the-fence fans who bailed on going due to the crappy weather (a big walk-up was expected)

    Besides, if MLS ever returned to South Florida, it would be best to be placed in Ft. Lauderdale. Miami should only ever get consideration IF (and only if) a very wealthy owner combines with a big worldwide club like Barcelona, ala what was almost done in 2008 before it fell apart.


  • Thundergunner

    A great run for the Stars! It’s great to have a champion again in Minnesota for the first time since 99. Coach Lagos and the players deserve a ton of credit for taking one of the smallest payrolls in the league to the title! Now we need an owner!


  • Rev up those Revs

    Fine with me. Then we can bring in the Sporting Boston Celtics when a non-Kraft owner gets a stadium near the city.


  • Ivan

    Good to see the game televised on Gol TV. Hopefully they will pick up more games next season, which surely brings a level of legitimacy to this league.

    Decent crowd considering the bad weather. The game itself wasn’t anything special, Minnesota came for a draw and they got it.

    All in all, it was a good first year for NASL.


  • Minnesota Nice FC

    Enough with the “who gets into the MLS” talk. Let’s talk about The Team That Nobody Wanted winning a damned trophy! Manny Lagos has worked magic with a team on a tiny budget. They work hard and they fight hard. It wasn’t a pretty game last night, but the pretty part came in last week’s demolition at home. That and they have the best supporters group in the country.

    Now, does anyone know any rich basketball players who want to buy a Minnesotan soccer team?

    Thanks, Ives and Franco for giving a public space and voice to American soccer outside the MLS.


  • Jimcrist

    I was there, all the way from Minnesota. 2500 in the stadium, tops. If there were more people in there, others watching the game probably wouldn’t have heard the Dark Clouds singing the whole game.

    We were the 1%!!!!


  • flashyandy

    Agreed, there was NOWHERE near the announced attendance. if there was 3000 people there, I’d be surprised. (and yes, I was AT the game.) That attendance was bad for the Strikers, (even though they still got the revenue of all the paid tickets from the no-shows) and bad for the league. It was great for the Stars and the Dark Clouds though!


  • yankiboy

    Mad props to the Minnesota Stars and their supporters! Manny gets my vote for “NASL Coach of the Year”. No contest.

    Props to the Ft. Lauderdale faithful. You guys have been through an awful lot with that club over the years.

    Props to Franco & Ives for acknowledging that the NASL exists and provided it some coverage here.


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