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Stars and Rowdies end first half goal-less - but not chance-less

In the first leg of the NASL semifinals, the Minnesota Stars and the San Antonio Scorpions played a conservative, defensively-responsible first leg, a game that ended at 0-0.

In the finals, it's still 0-0 at halftime - but neither the Stars nor the Rowdies seems interested in being conservative. Both teams created a handful of excellent chances - more for Tampa Bay than Minnesota - and both keepers were regularly pressed into action.

Minnesota started more brightly, with Miguel Ibarra making several counter-attacking runs down the right flank, but the team got their first clear-cut chance from the left side. Five minutes in, Jamie Watson eluded two defenders on the left side of the area and crossed for Amani Walker, whose header looped over the keeper and bounced off the crossbar. Simone Bracalello tried to control the loose ball for a sharp-angle shot, but his drive flew well wide.

Tampa Bay answered with a flurry of chances, as Shane Hill floated the ball to the back post for Carl Cort, who drove a point-blank shot that was well deflected by Matt Van Oekel in the Stars goal. The keeper was back in action two minutes later, claiming a floating ball from a corner kick off the head of an onrushing Rowdies defender. Moments later, Mike Ambersley, slipping behind the defense, tested Van Oekel again from close range, but once again the Stars keeper deflected the shot away. Rowdies midfielder Keith Savage was the fourth to go close, rounding Stars defender Justin Davis in the area, but shot tamely, directly at the keeper from just yards away.

The Rowdies chances seemed to open up the game. Luke Mulholland floated a dangerous ball through the Stars area that Van Oekel deflected away, while Bracalello stung Rowdies keeper Jeff Attinella's hands on the other end. Watson had two chances as well from a tight angle, but the first was blocked and the second hit the side netting. Savage had another chance that had the Rowdies players up off the bench ready to celebrate, but his shot flew wide of Van Oekel's post.

It's been, then, kind of a wild half, and the real surprise is that the game remains at 0-0. We'll see what the second half brings.

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