Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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It's probably worth reviewing the current state of the Stars roster, just to lay the groundwork for the season to come. We've already covered the players who are trying out - let's look at the players who are under contract, and likely to make up the starting eleven.
GOALKEEPER: One of the more intriguing battles of camp will be between Daryl Sattler and Matt Van Oekel for the starting role between the posts. Both Sattler and Van Oekel had very good seasons last year, Sattler for the San Antonio Scorpions and Van Oekel for the Stars, and it'll be interesting to see how things shake out. The third keeper on the roster, Mitch Hildebrant, isn't a slouch, either, but it would be surprising to see him surpass both more-experienced keepers to become the starter - at least by opening day.
DEFENDER: The back four is the area in which the Stars have seen the least turnover. Fullbacks Brian Kallman and Justin Davis return, as well as center backs Connor Tobin and Cristiano Dias. Tobin emerged down the stretch as one of the team's two first-string central defenders, while Dias - who was the one who made way for Tobin down the stretch - will be looking to solidify his spot. Kyle Altman, who was part of the NASL Best XI last year in central defense, is a free agent. Altman is currently trying out with the Portland Timbers in Major League Soccer, and should he not catch on there, will have to make a choice between soccer or medical school.
As for players who are actually on the roster, new signing Aaron Pitchkolan is capable of playing in defense or as a defensive midfielder, and player/assistant coach Kevin Friedland could also be in the mix for regular minutes in the back line.
MIDFIELD: The team lost holding midfielder Neil Hlavaty to Edmonton, but the signings of Pitchkolan and Bryan Arguez should cover easily for that loss. Arguez and Pitchkolan, in fact, may be the front-runners for the central midfield spots, with Kentaro Takada returning to back them up. The central midfielders, whoever they might be, are one of the keys for the Stars - especially in the spring season, as the two will need to jell quickly to get Minnesota's offense moving forward.
Out wide, speedy winger Miguel Ibarra returns, potentially to resume his role of "guy who spends the entire ninety minutes sprinting up and down the right wing, causing havoc." Ibarra has the speed, but needs to work on both his crossing and his finishing to be the threat he's capable of becoming. On the other side of the field, loan signing Jamie Watson has returned to Orlando City in the USL Pro league, and Lucas Rodriguez is a free agent, thus leaving a bit of a hole in the lineup. Simone Bracalello, though a forward on the roster, could also play on the wing.
FORWARD: The team's biggest question at the beginning of the offseason has now become one of its most settled positions. New signings Pablo Campos and Etienne Barbara will resume the partnership that brought the pair 32 goals combined in Carolina in 2011. Bracalello will also be in the mix as a backup, as well as Nate Polak, a youngster from Hastings College who signed midseason last year and who is back in 2013.
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