Jeremy Olson, DigitalGopher.net
The Minnesota Stars take on San Antonio in the semifinals of the NASL playoffs on Saturday, the home leg of a two-game total-goals matchup with league leaders San Antonio. Here's a look at Saturday night's game.
Stars head coach Manny Lagos claims he doesn't have any special magic that he reserves for the playoffs, but the results say different. Minnesota is the bottom seed in the NASL playoffs for the second year running - and for the second year running, they won a tough quarterfinal on the road to qualify for the semifinals.
"It's a great result for the team and the club," said Lagos. "Puerto Rico is such a hard place to play, I'm very proud of the guys."
San Antonio, like Carolina in 2011, won the league's regular-season title in some style, scoring more goals than any other team in the league. They'll also have the advantage of a week off - and a home game in the second leg, which takes place next Sunday, on October 14.
Said Lagos, "The first leg is at home, it's important for us to get excited about playing in front of our home fans. It's always a different level of intensity in the playoffs, so it's nice to have a home game. There's no magic, it's just trying to prepare well and play well."
The Pablo Campos problem
Striker Pablo Campos scored nearly half of the Scorpions' goals this year, netting 20 to lead the league by a wide margin. Only three other players even reached double figures, something Campos - who played for Carolina last season and scored 12 goals - has done two years running.
That said, Campos hasn't had much success against the Stars this year, scoring just one goal in four matches, a goal that was likely offside but was somehow ignored by the referee.
"He's big and strong and fast," said defender Kyle Altman. "I guess you can compare him to a train. He's predictable with his movements, but he's very good with what he does. The train's on the track, so you know where the track is going, but sometimes it's hard to stop a train."
Altman has had plenty of experience playing against Campos, since the Stars played him six times last season when he was with Carolina, and now four times this season against San Antonio. "He's a bit of a scrappy player, he'll put his hands up in your face. He'll use his elbows and be physical. It suits their style, because they like to play direct to him."
"We're pretty familiar with him. We know what his strengths are. We're as prepared as we possibly can be for him."
Altman saves the day
Altman was the hero of the day in Minnesota's 2-1 quarterfinal win in Puerto Rico, clearing a shot off the line in the 85th minute to preserve the one-goal margin. Islanders striker Nicholas Addlery got the ball caught in his feet as he tripped into the net, and Altman recovered just in time to stop a slowly rolling ball from crossing the goal line.
"I saw Addlery sneak in at the back post," said Altman, "and my initial instinct was that he about a yard or two offside, and so I was appealing to get the offside call. The ball happened to be right there, I happened to be in the right place at the right time."
Did the ball sneak across the line? "No. Definitely not," Altman smiled.
Minnesota nice and cold
It's a typical Minnesota October weekend, which means some non-traditional soccer weather. Game time temperature figures to be in the low 40s, which Altman says is an advantage for the home side - and he knows from experience.
"I played college soccer down in San Antonio for Trinity University," he said. "Every time we had to travel outside of Texas as part of the season and into the playoffs, it was always a big discussion - we're going to Ohio, we're going to Pennsylvania, we have to get this cold-weather gear, it all turns into a big hassle."
"It's definitely something that's going to be in their heads, definitely something that they're going to be concerned with. I can't wait to get them up here and run them around in the snow."
Time: Saturday, 7:30pm
Location: National Sports Center, Blaine
Details: This is the first game of a two-leg home-and-home series, with the second leg in San Antonio on October 14. The team with the most total goals in the two matches advances to the finals; if there's a tie, the match goes to extra time and then penalty kicks.
Health update: According to Lagos, the entire team is healthy and ready for the game.