The Minnesota Stars didn't look like title contenders for most of the 2011 season. They started the campaign with no local owner and the smallest roster budget in the second-division North American Soccer League. Then they suffered through a seven-game winless streak in late summer that seemingly doomed their campaign. But the Stars snuck into the final post-season spot by going undefeated in their final three matches. They rode that momentum through an unlikely playoff run, capped by a 3-1 home-and-away series victory over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to claim the NASL Championship Cup. Expectations will be higher for Manny Lagos's squad this year as they return with defensive stalwarts Kyle Altman and Brian Kallman, along with midfield cogs Neil Hlavaty and Kentaro Takada. Newcomers Martin Nunez, acquired from Fort Lauderdale, and Miguel Ibarra, a first-team All American at the University of California Irvine in 2011, should bolster the attack. The Stars will open their title defense at the Metrodome before playing the rest of the season at the National Sports Center in Blaine. Tailgating gets underway at 4:30 p.m. in the southeast corner outside Gate D. The Dark Clouds supporters group and Surly will be teaming up to provide free beer for the festivities. For more info, visit www.mnstars.com.
Sat., April 7, 7:30 p.m., 2012