The Minnesota Stars don't have an owner. And they made the North American Soccer League playoffs with a victory in their last regular-season game, putting them in sixth place.
But Saturday the Stars put themselves in an enviable position to win the NASL championship when they beat Fort Lauderdale 3-1 at the National Sports Center in Blaine in the opener of the two-game, total-goal league finals. Attendance was a season-high 4,511.
Game 2 will be next Saturday at Lockhart Stadium in Florida. The Strikers have to beat the Stars, who are owned by the league, by two goals to force a shootout or by three to win in regulation time.
"It's halftime, so again I have to temper our enjoyment," Stars coach Manny Lagos said. "I will say this ... what a great night of soccer for Minnesota.
"I thought we played very well. We scored all four goals."
They actually did. With the Stars leading 1-0 early in the second half, the Strikers tied the score when a long pass to the far right post bounced off Stars defender Justin Davis and into the net in the 52nd minute.
"My favorite point of the game was how we reacted to the own goal," Lagos said. "The guys picked each other up. We just got back at it."
Quickly. In the next minute, Luke Mulholland scored on a 16-yard shot from the right side through traffic. His goal put the Stars ahead 2-1. Davis, the guilty party on the Strikers goal at the other end, had the assist on this goal.
"It was class," Lagos said of Mulholland's goal. "He was composed. He found the spot where he wanted to hit it."
Lucas Rodriguez made it 3-1 in the 78th minute, scoring on an off-speed shot from 15 yards.
"[Lucas] just drove forward," Lagos said. "It was such a nice individual play."
So was the Stars' first goal three minutes into the game. Neil Hlavaty took a free kick from 20 yards out, in the penalty arc. His low shot curved around the Strikers' wall of players and into the lower right corner of the net.
"I just kept it low and the goalie reacted late," Hlavaty said.
The Strikers were 2-0-2 against the Stars during the regular season and had shut them out 3-0 and 1-0 in their past two meetings.
"It was kind of different playing with a goal from that early," Hlavaty said. "But we kept the same tempo the whole night and brought it to them."
The Stars outshot the Strikers 12-6.
"Our goal at the beginning of the year was to win it all," Hlavaty said. "We knew we could. Unfortunately we fell to sixth, but I don't think that really defines our team being a sixth seed."