Newlywed Stars keeper longing for long playoff run

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2012 - 1:00 AM

Another title would be icing on the cake for Matt VanOekel, who tied the knot last week.

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Stars goalkeeper Matt VanOekel in April.

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Minnesota Stars FC goalkeeper Matt VanOekel got married Sept. 21. He is hoping a playoff honeymoon comes next for his team.

The Stars, defending North American Soccer League champions, grabbed the sixth and final playoff seed for the second consecutive season. But they bring confidence and experience into a first-round, single-elimination game at 5 p.m. Sunday at No. 3 seed Puerto Rico (11-8-9).

"I think we have the pieces to make this run, so we're going to be extremely disappointed if we don't," said VanOekel, who ranked fourth in the league with a 1.20 goals-against average. "One game and done is not what we want. I definitely want a win under my belt as a married man before the season is over."

The path to a title appears daunting. Since 2005 Minnesota teams (the defunct Thunder and current Stars) have a record of one victory, two ties and seven losses at Puerto Rico. The Stars (8-11-9) went without a goal in two losses on the Islanders' turf this season. But optimism stems from two 4-0 victories at Blaine's National Sports Center.

Defender Brian Kallman said a common thread in the Stars' two home victories was burying early chances. "Puerto Rico is a team that I feel will quit playing if we get an early goal or two," he said.

Players arrived Friday, giving them a buffer between a long travel day and Sunday's match. Meanwhile, the Islanders played a Thursday night CONCACAF Champions League match against a strong team from El Salvador.

"It's not the worst matchup for us," Stars coach Manny Lagos said.

A victory Sunday would send the Stars into a home-and-home, total-goal semifinal series against No. 1 seed San Antonio beginning Oct. 6 at the National Sports Center.

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574

  • NASL PLAYOFFS STARS AT PUERTO RICO • 5 P.M. SUNDAY

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