Image courtesy Jeremy Olson of DigitalGopher.net.

Stars vs. Puerto Rico: Streak's Over, Stars Win 4-0

The Stars scored twice in either half and ran out 4-0 winners over Puerto Rico, clinching a playoff berth in the process.

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Stars vs. Puerto Rico: Streaks End As Stars Win 4-0

We mentioned all of the Stars' streaks before the match. Call us a jinx, but those streaks are all over now, as the Stars ran the Puerto Rico Islanders out of NSC Stadium, scoring late in the first half and twice early in the second half and winning 4-0.

Straight from the second-half kickoff, Miguel Ibarra pushed down the center of the field, then knocked it out wide on the left for an unmarked Jamie Watson. Watson didn't even bother to take a touch, curling the ball around a diving keeper and into the far corner first time, one of the goals of the year for Minnesota.

(We also have to mention his goal celebration, which will likely go down as the best of the season. Stars fans have chanted "YOU DIVE LIKE JAMIE WATSON" for years, going back to a match in 2005, so Watson - as the Stars supporters waved the scuba diving flag they've reserved specially for him - ran over to the supporters, then fell to the ground in a dive. That's just funny.)

Just five minutes later, Amani Walker drove a shot off the post, and walked away forlornly, looking snakebitten - but only two minutes later, he too was on the scoresheet. In the 52nd minute, Ibarra picked up a loose ball on the right side of the field and swung a cross through the penalty area, where Walker was running to head the ball back across the keeper and into the net. It was his seventh goal of the year - the most by any Stars player in the club's three-year history.

After that goal, the Stars looked to be coasting on the strong south breeze blowing through the stadium - as well they might. Their nine-game winless streak has now become a five-game unbeaten streak. Their place in the playoffs is assured - and they're even into a tie for fifth place with Carolina and a point behind fourth-place Fort Lauderdale (though the former has two games in hand, and the latter one.) Their two remaining games, at Puerto Rico and at league-leading San Antonio, now become battles for playoff places rather than a fight for a playoff spot.

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Stars vs. Puerto Rico: Stars Lead 2-0 At Half, Not 1-0, For Once

The Stars are in the fourth game of a four-game homestand - and so far, every game had followed a familiar script: possession dominance for Minnesota in the first half, capped off by one early goal and a handful of missed chances, leading to a 1-0 halftime lead that the team eventually relinquished.

The Stars can be thankful that particular streak is over, though, as Nate Polak and Miguel Ibarra both scored in the first half against Puerto Rico, giving Minnesota a 2-0 halftime lead.

It was the fifteenth minute when Polak, making his first professional start, scored his first professional goal. Polak managed to control a Jamie Watson cross at the top of the area and turn, leaving the defender on the wrong side of goal. From there, Polak took a touch, then drove the ball into the lower-right corner for the game's first goal.

Just before the interval, Ibarra put the Stars into a position they haven't had in some time - a 2-0 lead. Ibarra got loose behind the defense, but could not get a good shot away as he was being harassed from behind and ahead. In the ensuing scramble, the ball popped to the corner, where Polak picked it up and drove along the end line. His cross was turned goalwards by Amani Walker, right to the waiting Ibarra, who punched the ball home from a distance of about two feet.

Puerto Rico, meanwhile, has played the role of the typical road team - content to attack only on the counter and wait for defensive miscues and set pieces. They've had three chances from corners and free kicks, none of them particularly dangerous.

It's the first time the Stars have scored twice in a game since July 12 and only the sixth time all season, and it has them set up for a different second half. They say in hockey that a two-goal lead is the hardest to protect. The Stars are about to find out if it's true in soccer as well - and it's no doubt that's a problem they'd love to have.

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Stars vs. Puerto Rico: Three Changes From Saturday For Minnesota

The Minnesota Stars, playing for the second time in four days, are making a couple of changes from the lineup that drew 1-1 with Edmonton on Saturday. Connor Tobin comes in for Cristiano Dias in defense, while Nate Plak gets the first start of his young career, up front with regular target forward Amani Walker. In the midfield, regular central midfielder Neil Hlavaty took a shot in a clash of heads Saturday, and will be rested for this game. Michael Reed comes into the team in his place.

For Puerto Rico, the Islanders will make four changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. They retain Nicholas Addlery up front; the forward's nine goals this season are good for fourth place on the NASL leaderboard.

The teams:

MINNESOTA

GK: Matt Van Oekel
Defense: Justin Davis - Brian Kallman - Kyle Altman - Connor Tobin
Midfield: Jamie Watson - Kentaro Takada - Michael Reed - Miguel Ibarra
Forward: Amani Walker - Nate Polak

PUERTO RICO

GK: Richard Martin
Defense: Edsu Edward - Stephen Deroux - Christian Ideagua - Jay Needham
Midfield: Osei Telesford - Justin Ford - Christian Barrero - David Foley
Forward - Jonathan Fana - Nicholas Adderly

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