Sunday, October 28, 2012

LD Update: Rowdies survive for NASL crown; Toronto teams win CSL titles

Tampa Bay Rowdies celebrate NASL championship | Photo: NASL
In dramatic fashion, the second-seeded Tampa Bay Rowdies rallied and survived adversity in the NASL Championship series to down the defending champion Minnesota Stars in penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw through two legs and an extra 30 minutes of series overtime.

Trailing by two after the first leg in Minnesota, a 14-yard shot from Keith Savage rebounded to Carl Cort for the finish in the 25th minute to cut the deficit in half. Minnesota stood strong to the break, but saw the series lead erased six minutes into the second half when a corner kick from Luke Mulholland, who won the title with the Stars a year ago after finishing a Rookie of the Year award-winning USL Pro campaign with the Wilmington Hammerheads. The restart found the head of Andres Arango, who sent it down in Savage's direction at the far post for the series equalizer.

But while the Rowdies faithful were still celebrating, Minnesota stunned them to silence with an immediate answer, reclaiming the lead when Miguel Ibarra took the ball up the right side delivered a through ball to Lucas Rodriguez, who put the ball past Jeff Attinella for a 3-2 series lead.

Second division veteran Dan Antoniuk, though, came through with a clutch performance off the bench highlighted by a tap-in with just under five minutes left in regulation when Mike Ambersley beat Minnesota keeper Matt VanOekel to a loose ball and looped it over him.

Again, celebration turned to anxiety, though, when Shane Hill, son of coach Ricky Hill, made a reckless tackle at the midfield touchline in the final minute of regulation, leaving the home side down a man after the red card ejection.

Scoreless after overtime, the NASL Best XI goalkeeper selection lived up to the accolade, making three saves - though he was not called for being clearly off the line prematurely on the second - to give the Rowdies a 3-2 victory in the tiebreaker while VanOekel denied Cort to keep things close. - MORE

The result was devastating for the Minnesota Stars, who are literally on the chopping block without an owner and the league's Board of Governors - team owners - poised to vote on whether or not to continue funding the club as a league-owned franchise. In the past few weeks, NASL and Stars executives have spoken vaguely of a potential new owner, but with no desire to mention who that person(s) may be, it is probably unlikely that option would save the team. Head coach Manny Lagos, who was a star for the predecessor Minnesota Thunder which his father coached and essentially founded, was extremely emotional in the post-game interview online, accidentally swearing while discussing how great his players are and breaking into tears moments later before eventually walking away speechless.  

Toronto Croatia | Photo: Canpix

It was a good day for Toronto. Hometown Toronto Croatia and SC Toronto Reserves took home the Canadian Soccer League's First and Second Division championships Saturday.

Though the league's championship story does not mention the actual score, the strike from Marin Vulemilovic-Grgic in the 83rd minute was the lone tally (as confirmed by Twitter) against Montreal Impact Academy at Centennial Stadium. It is a CSL First Divison championship repeat for Toronto Croatia, who downed Capital City (Ottawa) a year ago for the title.

In the Second Division Final, SC Toronto overcame a goal from Bramtpon City United's Nathaniel Ennis 21 minutes in for a 3-1 victory. Sahsa Ricciuti evened terms in the 43rd and Jordan Kalk put Toronto ahead just before the break with Adrian Perez locking the match up in the 79th. - MORE