By FRANCO PANIZO
For the second straight season, Minnesota Stars FC will be in the NASL Championship Series but only after handing out what may have been the biggest upset of the playoffs.
The Stars kept their hopes of defending their championship alive by rallying to defeat regular-season winners the San Antonio Scorpions, 2-1, at Toyota Field on Sunday night. A first-half red card to San Antonio striker Pablo Campos and two goals in an eight-minute span late in the second paved the way for Minnesota to come back and end the expansion team’s impressive season, one that they surely thought would end with a championship.
With the first leg in Minnesota having ended scoreless, the Scorpions jumped out in front on aggregate when Pablo Campos found the back of the net midway through the first half. But a minute later Campos went from hero to scapegoat, as he was ejected for headbutting Kyle Altman after the Stars captain had fouled him.
Down a goal but up a man, Minnesota finally equalized in the 76th minute when Scorpions defender Blake Wagner deflected a cross into his own net. Things got worse for San Antonio and their 6,249 fans in attendance, as Simone Bracalello buried the winner in the 83rd minute to secure the Stars’ advancement.
In the other semifinals series:
Both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Carolina RailHawks suffered a whirlwind of emotions in a wild second leg, but the Rowdies were the ones to book their place in the NASL Championship series after a 3-3 draw at Al Lang Stadium saw them win 5-4 on aggregate.
Having suffered a 2-1 loss in the first leg in Carolina, the RailHawks could not have asked for a better start in the second leg. On-loan Orlando City forward Matt Luzunaris and Ty Shipalane both scored inside the first 18 minutes, leaving the 4,132 Rowdies fans stunned.
Tampa Bay, however, did not wilt under the pressure. The Rowdies scored three unanswered goals, the last of which came courtesy of Luke Mulholland in the 84th minute, to jump ahead on aggregate, 5-3.
Carolina refused to roll over, with Nick Zimmerman scoring two minutes later, but they never found an equalizer.
The NASL Championship series will kickoff with the Stars hosting the Rowdies at NSC Stadium on Oct. 20 before Tampa entertains Minnesota in in the decisive match at Al Lang Stadium on Oct. 27.
What do you think of the Stars’ comeback win over the Scorpions? Shocked by Campos’ actions? Impressed with the Rowdies’ ability to respond after giving up two early goals?
Share your thoughts below.