Stars Open Season with Close Road Loss

Published Mar 3, 2020

The Michigan Stars opened their inaugural season in the NISA on leap day, Saturday, Feb. 29, with a tough 1-0 loss to last year’s West Coast champs, the Cal United Strikers. Before a crowd of 2,258 at Orange County Great Park Championship Stadium in 60 degree weather, the Stars battled the champs hard. At one point, they nearly tied the score with a header off a corner kick by Stars defender Joseph Aidoo. It hugged the goal line but did not cross.

Playing in a 5-3-2 style with an extra defender back, opposite the Strikers’ 4-4-2 with an extra midfielder up, the Stars opted for a physical approach that had them under the ref’s eye, to the tune of seven first half fouls. The Stars drew three yellow cards in the game but there were none for the Strikers, a surprising disparity. Play smoothed out a bit in the second half. Strikers’ player Kevin Jeon banged home a rebound off a 30-foot shot by defender Michael Bryant at the 59-minute mark of the second half for the game’s only score.

The Stars, who have to play four of their first five games on the road, will finally get to play in front of their home fans on March 21st. Their schedule allows for a break from travel in the latter part of the season, when the Stars host five straight home games in the month of May, before finishing with one last road game.

George Juncaj, Stars Manager, said of this game:

"We went to play the California United Strikers; they are a good team. We also played very well. We made a small mistake, we allowed the guy to shoot from outside the box. Our goalie did not clear it away. Rebound. We lost 1-0, but in the end it was a good game, and a good experience. We will be ready when they come and visit us at home."

The game threatened to be overshadowed by the debut of the Strikers’ 15-year-old wunderkind, Shane Kaemerle, who was thrust into the game on a substitution in the 63rd minute. In the end, he did not figure in the scoring, and in fact was greeted to the league by a solid check from Stars defender Cameron Schneider, who later joked with Kaemerle about his rough welcome.

The Stars started goalie Arshia Aghababazadeh; defenders Joseph Aidoo, Gonnie Ben-Tal, Andres Chalbaud, Cameron Schneider, and Patrick Sullivan; midfielders Steven Juncaj, Zachary Reynolds and Nils Valdmanis; and forwards Kyle Nuel and Travis Ward.

Midfielder Zanin Mahic subbed in for Reynolds in the 64th minute, and Tekodah Lobsiger, listed as a defender, spelled forward Ward in the 77th minute. Not seeing action in this contest were goalies Sergio Orozco and Tatenda Mkruva; defenders Robert Juncaj, Alexandre Frank, Adil Gowani, James Abraham and Terence Smith; midfielders Remy Tazifor and Nenad Markovic; and forwards Alexander Satrustegui and James Pipe.

The Stars had four shots on goal total; three in the first half, one each by Reynolds, Chalbaud and Aidoo (the previously mentioned header), and one in the second half by Ward, before his subbing out.

The Stars next game is this coming Saturday, March 7, at Laney Football Stadium, home of opponent the Oakland Roots SC.