Victory comes at home after three final losses on the road
Blaine, Minn. – The Minnesota Thunder professional soccer team made the most of its first home championship match Saturday, defeating the Rochester Raging Rhinos 2-1 for the A-League title in front of 9,987 fans at the National Sports Center.
The Thunder, who lost championship games to the host team in 1994, ’95 and 3-1 at Rochester last season, won their 13th consecutive game to finish the season 28-6.
“It’s beyond bliss,” said Minnesota forward Amos Magee, who was named championship MVP after setting up both goals. “I can’t say it was worth all the disappointment of losing three times in the final, but it’s so great to finally do it here in front of our fans.”
Forward Gerard Lagos got the home fans into the game by heading home the first goal from point-blank range in the 43rd minute. Magee’s 8-yard shot from the right side caromed off the crossbar, and Lagos nodded the rebound into the lower left corner.
The Thunder doubled their lead less than one minute into the second half on a goal by midfielder Pawel Nowak. After a give-and-go with Magee about 35 yards from the Rochester goal, Nowak nudged the ball past lunging defender Mali Walton and drove into the penalty area before sliding the ball under Rhinos goalkeeper Pat Onstad from 15 yards.
Rochester (27-9) answered 10 minutes later when forward Darren Tilley scored on a left-footed shot from 10 yards. Tilley, who scored all three Rhinos goals in last year’s championship win over Minnesota, controlled a long crossing pass from midfielder Nate Daligcon before slotting the ball into the lower right corner of the net.
The Thunder, who last surrendered a two-goal lead in a 5-4 shootout loss to the El Paso Patriots on July 4, 1998, withstood a furious Rhinos charge in the final minutes.
In the 83rd minute, defender Kalin Bankov cleared away a high ball after goalkeeper John Swallen made a diving kick save on a header by Rochester midfielder Yari Allnutt. Less than one minute later, Bankov slid to knock away a 10-yard side volley by Allnutt.
“We scrapped one out, as usual,” said Swallen, who was named A-League MVP on Friday. “It seems like every time we have a one-goal lead with 10 minutes to play, we tend to give up those goalmouth scrambles. This year, everything went our way.”