Thunder goes down fighting, falls in U.S. Open Cup match

  • Article by: JOHN MILLEA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 24, 2008 - 11:29 PM

Frustration peaked in OT, when the Thunder gave up two scores and saw one of its players bloodied in a scuffle.

Fans went to a soccer match Tuesday night and a hockey game broke out.

The Thunder played host to the Cleveland City Stars in a U.S. Open Cup pairing at the National Sports Center in Blaine, with the winner advancing to face the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer. The Thunder play in the United Soccer Leagues' first division and the Stars reside in the second division, but Cleveland's 2-0 overtime victory proved who can land a punch as well as a knockout blow.

Shortly after an unassisted goal by Floyd Franks put the Stars ahead 1-0 in the first of two 15-minute overtime periods, the brawling began. As the Thunder's Ricardo Sanchez and Cleveland's Anthony Stovall clutched, grabbed and tussled for control of the ball in a corner of Minnesota's defensive zone, Stovall reared back and punched Sanchez right in the kisser.

The third man in was the Thunder's Andrew Barron, who wrapped both arms around Stovall and took him to the ground as everyone from both teams raced to the scene. Stovall was red-carded.

Sanchez got up after a few minutes, bloody towel held to his lip, began walking off but then balked at exiting and remained on the pitch.

"He's pretty bloodied up," Thunder coach Amos Magee said after the match, which sent the Stars on to play at Chicago on July 1. Franks scored on a penalty kick in the 119th minute, ending a miserable evening for the home team.

"We were off on all parts of our game," Magee said.

Franks, who spent the past two seasons with the Fire, said Cleveland's victory was as big as it gets. "This is a great achievement for us," he said.

As the match wore on through more than 100 nil-nil minutes, the biggest questions -- besides "Will anybody score?" -- revolved around darkness and mosquitoes. The match was held on a pitch adjacent to the main stadium, which is undergoing renovations.

Since the fill-in site had no lights, the match started at 6:05 p.m. instead of the normal 7:05. Early in the evening, it seemed a safe bet that everything would be wrapped up before the sunshine departed and the insects arrived. But then came minute after minute of off-target drives, corner kicks that went nowhere, close-range free kicks that failed to find paydirt, and finally the knockout blow(s).

"It's hugely disappointing," Magee said.

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