Image courtesy Jeremy Olson of DigitalGopher.net.
The Minnesota Stars enter Sunday's match without anything left to clinch - just the chance to play for a better first-round playoff opponent.
On the surface, the Minnesota Stars enter the final match of the regular season Sunday night with nothing to play for. They've already clinched a playoff berth, but they'll definitely go on the road for their first-round playoff game. Both San Antonio and Tampa Bay have clinched byes to the semifinals, while Puerto Rico and Carolina have clinched home games in the first-round qualifiers. All that's left is to find out where the Stars will play.
This ignores past history, however. Puerto Rico remains a possible destination for the Stars; if the playoffs began today, Minnesota would visit the Islanders in the first round, and the Estadio Juan Roman Loubriel hasn't exactly been home away from home for the Stars. The franchise has never won in Puerto Rico. This season, the team didn't even score in Puerto Rico, losing 1-0 and 2-0. Considering Minnesota beat the Islanders 4-0 both times the teams played in Minnesota, it's pretty clear that this matchup is wildly different based on the locale. Puerto Rico has only lost twice at home all year - but has won just three games on the road.
Of course, Carolina wasn't hospitable for Minnesota this year, either - the Stars lost 5-1 and 1-0 there. But the team won there last year, including in the league semifinals in a penalty shootout; WakeMed Soccer Park holds no fear for Minnesota, at least not like Puerto Rico does.
The Stars will know by Sunday what they need to do; both Carolina and Puerto Rico play Saturday. That said, you can expect a few regulars to be removed from the team sheet. Forward Martin Nuñez picked up his fifth yellow card of the season last weekend, so he'll be suspended for Sunday's match. Defenders Justin Davis and Brian Kallman, central midfielders Kentaro Takada and Neil Hlavaty, and winger Kevin Venegas would be suspended for the first round of the playoffs if they picked up a yellow card Sunday, so you can reliably expect none of them to play. Expect Kyle Altman and Connor Tobin to make appearances at the back for the third straight week, while Michael Reed will likely do the same in central midfield.