[NASL: Semifinals]The defending champion Minnesota Stars are two games away from repeating after eliminating the regular-season NASL champion San Antonio Scorpions with a 2-1 win in the second leg of their semifinal series to advance to the final against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, whose 3-3 tie against the Carolina RailHawks gave them a 5-4 aggregate win.
Minnesota, the No. 6 seed, overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit Sunday night at Heroes Stadium in San Antonio to advance. The first leg had ended in a 0-0 tie.
Simone Bracalello scored the winner eight minutes from time for Minnesota, which played more than an hour of the match with a man advantage after NASL Golden Boot winner Pablo Campos was red carded for head-butting Stars captain Kyle Altman a minute after he scored his 21st goal of the season.
“It changed the game, in both ways” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said of the red card. "They had to sit back and defend, and we knew we would have chances to move forward and have opportunities to control the game and get back into it. At halftime, I felt we were really starting to play well. It was a great effort considering how many guys they had behind the ball. At halftime, we got excited about attacking and getting the ball in good spots.”
The Stars finally drew even in the 76th minute when Neil Hlavaty's cross deflected off Scorpions defender Blake Wagnerinto his own goal.
Five minutes later, the Stars took the lead when Bracalello took the ball 30 yards from goal and fired a powerful shot into the goal.
The Rowdies carried a 2-1 edge into the second leg at home but fell behind 2-0 after 18 minutes on goals by Floyd Franks and Ty Shipalane.
Shane Hilldrew Tampa Bay to within one -- and back even on aggregate -- from the penalty spot in the 39th minute and Mike Ambersley made to 2-2 on the night in the 65th minute.
In the 84th minute, Luke Mulholland put the game beyond reach when he first struck the crossbar, then put away his own rebound.
Carolina midfielder Nick Zimmermanscored the equalizing goal off a penalty kick in the 87th minute.
The tie extended the Rowdies' unbeaten streak to eight games, and they are now unbeaten in their last 11 home games.
The first leg of the final will be played Saturday in Blaine, Minn. The second is set for Oct. 27 at the Rowdies' Al Lang Field.