The Minnesota Stars of the NASL (D2) defeated the Des Moines Menace USL PDL team (D4) on Tuesday evening by a score of 2-0 at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines, Iowa, to advance to the Third Round of the 2012 US Open Cup.
Absent on the bench for Minnesota was head coach Manny Lagos who was serving the last of a 3-game suspension from an incident in 2009 when he was the President of the Thunder. Lagos was not allowed to be in the stadium so he didn’t even travel for the game. Instead, assistant coach Carl Craig took the reins for the night in what may have been his most important game he had ever coached. A win meant that Craig and his Stars would book a date next Tuesday with Real Salt Lake.
The Menace were also looking for that same Real Salt Lake date and came out of the gates quickly as the Stars tried to figure out a fast turf field against a young and physical opponent. Several times in the early going Minnesota allowed the Menace to attack through the middle with little to no pressure from the Stars. After the third long rang shot from Menace, Stars goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel had enough and gave his teammates an earful.
After some extended pressure by the Stars in the 19th minute, midfielder Miguel Ibarra latched onto a ball on the right side of the field. The rookie outside midfielder sent a looping cross into the box that found the foot of a leaping Simone Bracalello who was unmarked on the left side. He tapped the ball full volley from 10 yards out and past Menace goalkeeper Jhojan Obando to put the Stars up 1-0.
The Menace were able to apply some pressure on Minnesota near the half hour mark after some Stars miscues, but the Menace were never able to unlock the Stars defense to get a shot on goal.
In the the 40th minute Menace forward Renan Ramos charged Stars defender Cristiano Diaz with a high studs up challange. The normally calm Diaz lashed out and kicked at Ramos. The Stars were awarded a free kick for the foul and Diaz was shown a straight red for violent conduct.
With the sending off, coach Craig substituted target forward Armani Walker for player coach Kevin Friedland. The Stars saw out the first half with some additional pressure from the Menace after dropping to 10.
Minnesota played with 9 behind the ball most of the 2nd half with occasional flurries of possession and attack.
The Menace tried to find a way through the 10 man defensive unit of the Stars but found as other NASL teams have this season that when faced with adversity by being short handed, Minnesota is difficult to break down.
Each team had a hand full of chances but it would be the Stars’ Ibarra who finished the scoring on the night in the 84th minute. After some quick one touch passes from Minnesota midfielders Neal Hlavaty and Kevin Venegas, Ibarra was fed with a one-two and dribbled around his defender from the center of the field and 18 yards out. He unleashed while on the run and slotted the ball into the left side of the net to give the Stars a 2-0 win.
“They (Menace) are a hard working team,” said Ibarra who had one assist and one goal on the evening. “When we got the red card we didn’t let down. We just kept going for another one and we just wouldn’t give up.”
“It was a tough game, they came at us hard,” said the game winning goal scorer Bracalello. “They are big and they use their size to play. But we had to play for 50 minutes a man down. It was a hard game, a very hard game. But now we get to play Real Salt Lake. So I’m happy, very happy with the result.”
“I think our guys deserve a lot of credit for playing them tight,” said Menace veteran coach Laurie Calloway. “For most of them it’s the first time they’ve ever played against a pro team. But I think we started nervous and even when they went down to 10 we didn’t get a grip on the game. We did have a few chances we should have done better. But Minnesota is a good team. They are unbeaten this season and won the league last year. They were very well organized and they are not top of the league for no reason.”
While the Stars will look forward to facing Real Salt Lake next Tuesday, Calloway says he has much more realistic goals. “Overall I’m disappointed but now we can concentrate on winning our league and get back to our winning ways. At the end of the day, that’s a much more realistic target for us anyway. Let’s face it; it’s pretty impossible for a PDL team to win the Open Cup.”
“We got caught up in them being younger, more physical and being the underdog and we forgot what we were supposed to do,” said a happy but frustrated coach Craig. “But we won and now we get to play Real Salt Lake. That’s nice! That’s the main thing.”