ST. PETERSBURG — Heading into Saturday night's pivotal game against Minnesota, FC Tampa Bay knew its playoff seeding could hinge on how it performed.
The teams entered the night tied for third place in the NASL with 28 points, with Tampa Bay having three of its remaining nine regular-season games against Minnesota.
Tampa Bay made a statement in the slop of rain-soaked Al Lang Field, continuing its hot play with a 2-0 win over the Stars.
"At this moment I think the confidence is that high with us that we don't really fear anyone," coach Ricky Hill said.
The win was the third in the past four matches for Tampa Bay (8-6-7, 31 points), which took sole possession of third place in the standings. The team ended a stretch of three games in eight days with seven points, and since a loss to Carolina on June 18, Tampa Bay has lost just once in nine league matches, going 5-1-3.
Hill said the win was "one of our most pleasing" considering the field was soaked and needed intensive work to remove large puddles two hours before game time.
The ball was still tough to control, and dead spots in front of the goals made every scoring opportunity an adventure.
"We may have been labeled earlier in the season that we have a lot of nice footballers but when the going gets tough, people might think we come up short," Hill said of his team. "We understand that side of the game now. We have to do the ugly stuff."
Midfielder Pascal Millien put Tampa Bay up 1-0 right before the half, rocketing a right-footed shot from just outside the 18-yard box inside the far post in the 45th minute.
"Soon as I made a touch, just one thing came to my head: I'm just going to rip it," Millien said. "As soon as I took the shot, I said 'This is in.' When you watch the (English Premier League), you see goals like that."
Tampa Bay got an insurance goal credited to captain Frankie Sanfilippo off a deflection in front of the net, in the 65th minute. It was the defender's first goal of the year.
Forward Aaron King assisted on the goal, giving him points in eight consecutive matches.
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who made a game-high seven saves, made a diving stop on a Minnesota free kick in the 83rd minute to preserve his third shutout of the season and the team's fifth this year.
Three yellow cards were issued in the second half, two of them to Tampa Bay. Forward Warren Ukah got one in the 77th minute and midfielder Tsuyoshi Yoshitake in the 83rd, one minute after he entered as a substitute for Shane Hill. Minnesota's went to midfielder Jeff Cosgriff in the 62nd minute.