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Stars vs Tampa Bay: Championship Series kicks off in Blaine

The Minnesota Stars and the Tampa Bay Rowdies square off in the first leg of the NASL Championship series on a chilly night in Blaine.

Courtesy San Antonio Scorpions

The NASL championship series kicks off in Blaine tonight, as the Minnesota Stars try to defend their title against Tampa Bay. It's a cold night in Minnesota, and breezy as always, with a stiff wind blowing from the south end of the field.

Minnesota makes only one change from last weekend's win in San Antonio, swapping left winger Lucas Rodriguez for defensive midfielder Kentaro Takada. The Stars had been trying right winger Miguel Ibarra in a more central role, but the team sheet indicates that tonight he'll be back in his usual spot out right, with Takada and Neil Hlavaty playing in the center of the park. Simone Bracalello, the Stars' offensive key in the playoffs, stars up front along with Amani Walker.

Tampa Bay begins with a big change from the side that drew 3-3 with Carolina to send the Rowdies through to the finals. Takuya Yamada, the Rowdies' Best XI defender, is apparently set to miss out with an MCL strain he suffered Saturday; he was a game-time decision, but is not listed on tonight's team sheet. Former Stars midfielder Luke Mulholland is in the lineup, along with Shane Hill and Mike Ambersley, the two other goal-scorers from Saturday.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.