It was an exciting night for the Minnesota Stars - a 4-0 win and a playoff place mean that my post-match interview tapes have a background soundtrack of "Celebration," by Kool and the Gang. Not surprisingly, players and coaches alike were positive.
Forward Nate Polak might have been especially excited; he scored one goal and set up another in first professional start, and was named Man of the Match for his efforts. "It's a great debut for me, it's amazing," he said. And he claimed not to have been nervous when he had only the keeper to beat before his goal. "It's just a matter of being confident with myself, and doing what I do," he said.
Stars head coach Manny Lagos said he hadn't told Polak anything to put extra pressure on him before his first start. "He's been playing well in training, he's an exciting young kid," said Lagos. "What a way to get your first pro start and help us make the playoffs."
For the first time in weeks, Lagos could talk positively, rather than measuring his words and talking about the future. "I'm just super proud of the guys," he said. "The fragility of this team is pretty high, but the character is even higher. This was not an easy game for us, considering we gave up some leads in games where we should have won and we tied."
"Certainly we tried to approach the game in terms of getting over the shock of Saturday night.Tactically we changed a few players, and changed how we wanted to play considering we were playing for the second time in four days. At the end of the day, I think it was about getting the guys to believe in themselves about how we can play at home, and it was so fun to see them play with such joy and expression."
"This was more expressive of our team and what we can do. It was a very nice night to end our season here. I thought we gave our fans good, hard soccer."
Lagos didn't want to commit to anything, in terms of strategy for the team's final two road games, but it's clear he has at least somewhat of a conservative mindset. "The thing we have to be aware of is that we have guys on four yellow cards, so if they get a yellow in the final regular-season game, they'll sit out the playoff game. Not this next game but the final game, we're going to have to be careful."
"We're going to assess and see what happens tomorrow night in our league - we'll see where the points go. We're going to navigate how we manage those two games."
On-loan midfielder Jamie Watson was clearly excited to make a contribution, as well. In his two games since joining the team, Watson has scored a goal and had a hand in two others, but more importantly, he's brought a veteran presence to a forward line that's made up of some very young players. "That's one of the things Manny asked me to do," he said. "There's so many great young players, and when you get into game situations, part of it is letting them know what you've seen over the years. Where I play in Orlando, we have a bunch of older players - we kind of coach each other, but here, it's kind of trying to share what I've seen at certain points in games. I'm proud of the boys, for using what was a letdown to turn it into a situation tonight where we killed the game brilliantly."
More importantly, he confirmed that his goal celebration - running to the supporters' section and diving, as a homage to the "YOU DIVE LIKE JAMIE WATSON" chant so beloved of the team's fans - was premeditated. "Of course it was," he said, grinning. "That was Kevin Friedland's idea."