Minnesota Stars FC forward Miguel Ibarra hoped to extend his team's lead with a goal early in the second half Saturday night, but he deflected the ball off his left foot and over the Atlanta goal.
The announced crowd of 1,692 fans at the National Sports Center in Blaine groaned, and Stars coach Manny Lagos lamented what was shaping up to be a goal both crafty and critical. But Ibarra never worried.
"I was just thinking I was unlucky, but the next opportunity I got, I was going to put it away," Ibarra said.
Ibarra's next chance came in the 76th minute, as Kentaro Takada used his heel to drop the ball into position for Ibarra to shoot. He didn't miss. The goal led to a 2-0 victory, moving the defending North American Soccer League champions to an undefeated mark of 2-0-3 this season after their first game of the year at their regular home.
"He's a young, exciting player," Lagos said of Ibarra. "Sometimes, it's nice to be a rookie, because you don't have to worry about how chances are few and far between."
Reserve Ernest Tchoupe made the most of his Stars debut, entering the game in the 22nd minute for injured starting defender Connor Tobin and heading home a corner kick from Neil Hlavaty in the 24th minute for a 1-0 Stars lead.
"It got his confidence up and got us going," Ibarra said of Tchoupe's goal.
The goal gave the Stars something to show for holding the territorial edge early in the first half. Devin Del Do nearly scored earlier in the half, but Atlanta's Martyn Lancaster saved his beaten goaltender and booted the ball to safety.
Playing with the lead was a welcome change for the Stars, who needed stoppage-time goals in their past two games to salvage ties.
The Silverbacks battled back, however, putting the Stars defense under duress for the half's final 10 minutes.
The Stars appeared to get the last word with a goal from Amani Walker in first-half stoppage time. But officials ruled Walker was offside and waved the goal off immediately.
Potent Silverbacks scorer Reinaldo Navia got free near the Stars goal early in the second half, but keeper Matt VanOekel dived and got his hands on the ball.