Euphoria and heartbreak are the opposite sides of the same coin, in sports - and now the Minnesota Stars have experienced both sides in the space of one NASL championship series. A week after one of the most riotously happy nights in Stars history, the Tampa Bay Rowdies turned the tables on Minnesota, winning the NASL championship in that most heartbreaking of soccer fashions - on penalty kicks.
Carl Cort and Keith Savage scored for Tampa Bay to even the match on aggregate. Minnesota's Lucas Rodriguez replied almost immediately to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead with forty minutes to play, but Daniel Antoniuk leveled the match five minutes from time, sending the match to an extra half-hour. The Stars played the entire extra session with a man advantage, as Rowdies midfielder Shane Hill was sent off in the closing stages of normal time, but the match remained level all the way to the penalty shootout. Tampa keeper Jeff Attinella made three saves in the shootout, lifting his team to a 3-1 win and the NASL championship.
Cort opened the scoring for the Rowdies in the 25th minute, following a series of corners and throw-ins from the Rowdies. Luke Mulholland swung the ball into the area for Cort, who touched it on to Keith Savage at the far post. Savage's shot was saved by Minnesota goalkeeper Matt Van Oekel, but the rebound deflected to where Cort was still standing at the edge of the six-yard box, and the big striker twisted to drive home a shot for the 1-0 lead.
Five minutes after halftime, the Rowdies brought things even, again from a corner. This time, it was defender Andres Arango heading the ball down to Savage, who side-footed the ball into the back of the net to put the aggregate 2-2. The game hardly had time to kick off again, though, before Minnesota was back in front. Miguel Ibarra won a loose ball in the Rowdies' half with a head of steam, and his run at the center of the Tampa defense created space for Rodriguez on the left. Ibarra laid the ball into Rodriguez's path, just inside the area, and the midfielder drove the ball past a diving keeper for a 3-2 lead.
That scoreline held all the way until the 86th minute. Mike Ambersley beat Van Oekel to a ball in the area and popped the ball past the keeper, where Antoniuk was waiting to score to send the match to extra time.
In the shootout, Attinella saved three times - going to his right to save from Devin Del Do and to his left to deny Kyle Altman and Rodriguez. Van Oekel saved Cort's attempt, but Mulholland, Raphael Cox, and Fafa Picault converted their penalties for the Rowdies.
Halftime euphoria, but full-time heartbreak for Minnesota. It's Tampa Bay that got to lift the Soccer Bowl, this year, while the Stars had to stand and watch.