The Gopher Soccer program is entering year three of the Erin Chastain head coaching era. So as they prepare for their two exhibition matches this week, let’s dive into five things for you to track as you watch Minnesota suit up for the first time this fall.
Where do all the attacking midfielders go?
While one holding midfield spot is essentially settled (hard to imagine Amelia Brown being anything other than a 90 minute mainstay if she’s healthy and fit), the rest of the midfield picture is a little more wide open. There are essentially three starter-quality players for, presumably, two attacking midfield spots: Sophia Boman, Sophia Romine, and Paige Kalal – a freshman who enrolled early last January and showed really well during her spring reps.
The nice thing is that Head Coach Erin Chastain has options. The curious thing will be seeing how she uses them. Captain Sophia Boman is almost certainly going to claim one central midfield spot. Romine would theoretically be the obvious fit right alongside her (with Kalal moving out wide or coming off the bench) except Romine has shown *so* well when she’s played up top in a “tip of the spear” type front line role that you have to consider her there as well – particularly because of Chastain’s long time wish for more offensive production from her forward line.
Our guess is we see both versions of this setup. If the team uses something like a 4-5-1, you might see Kalal outside, Boman and Romine in front of Brown in the middle, and a central Khyah Harper or Izzy Brown up front. If the team opts for a more high pressing (more on this later), 4-3-3 lineup it could go full chaos with Megan Nemec, Romine, and another high work rate winger across the front, and Boman and Kalal sitting right behind them as attacking midfielders. Does a standout freshman like Kate Childers work her way into what would be a double holding midfield look, further pushing other attacking mids into more advanced roles…? We’ll see what they try out in the exhibitions AND how things shift after a few non-conference games. Look for things to shift quickly if a certain look doesn’t host up to tough matchups. Chastain is not known for letting a lineup weakness (even if just in an individual game) fester long.
Do we see a press, and how frequently?
Let’s get it out in the open. I am obsessed with the press. I want high work rate chaos at all times. I want counter attacks and turnovers in space. I want easy goals that unlock typical grind-it-out games. And I want to see opposing teams just *squirming* on the ball because they don’t know what the hell to do as all-hustle players relentlessly force them into uncomfortably quick decisions.
Now, does a press always make sense to deploy? No, not when you’re playing a team that has enough composure and talent on the ball that they carve you apart as you create space with your high defensive line. And not if your team lacks the fitness, work rate, and cohesion to run a press effectively for meaningful stretches of time. But for a team that has struggled to score in the run of play and (other than during Gabbie Cesarone’s *absurd* season last year as a corner kick scoring destroyer) on set pieces, a press has always felt like a tool to unlock a bit of offense while putting opposing teams off balance.
Certain impact players for Minnesota do better in more “half court” situations with the ball at their feet, with the chance to take defenders on, use their strength and touch, and rip a few shots on goal (your Khyah Harpers, your Izzy Browns, etc). But with the additions of “break the beep test” Megan Nemec, there continues to be *just* enough ridiculous work rate players to make me think a lethal press really could be possible – at least for stretches.
If, for instance, we get to see Nemec, Romine, Sadie Harper (or former track star Heimerl) across the front with Boman and Kalal in front of Amelia Brown running a full on, high pressure, break your spirit press *even just a few times* this season, we will die happy. Until then we’ll shut up about the press (probably).
Who solidifies at outside back?
The wing-to-outside-back pipeline continues to be alive and well as Christa Van Loon joined fellow former winger Abi Frandsen at outside back for large portions of spring (and during early reps in camp). And it’s possible the backline is essentially all but set, with (from left to right) Van Loon, Elizabeth Overberg, Jordy Rothwell, and Frandsen inked into their roles.
But if things do shift (either due to injury or dramatic change in form, etc), don’t forget that Sophia Barjesteh played a bit at outside back over the summer, that freshman Taylor Heimerl comes very highly rated (crushed the fitness test) and could seeing minutes at wing or outside back, and that Chastain has shown a willingness to try a three-back at times when needed. And, should there be some thinning of the attacking unit, Van Loon might also be helpful up front. We’ll see.
Which freshmen push their way into the rotation?
Kalal has dozens of practices and a couple scrimmages under her belt and is all but cemented into the rotation. Heimerl and Childers, as mentioned above, have shown some good chops early. Other than that, it’s incredibly possible that some random freshman or two impresses in training and squeezes their way into some wing minutes this fall, as well.
We rarely track recruits prior to their time landing on the college teams we are covering, so it should be noted that – for all we know – Stadden, Raymond, Fogerty, and others are going to burst on the scene and play from minute one. But adjusting to the college level is really hard. Chastain asks a lot of her players. And players really do have to earn their game minutes by showing well in training. So it can take some time for them to make that impression and progress up the food chain.
Does Jordy/anyone replace even a portion of Cesarone’s set piece prowess?
For years the Gophers have been toward the top of the Big Ten (and the country) in producing corner kicks. Due to a lack of consistent service AND true aerial threats to convert that service, corners haven’t always led to much (or really any) offensive production. Last fall, grad transfer Gabbie Cesarone single handedly changed that – notching 6 goals and 2 assists almost entirely via her perfectly placed forehead.
We’ve heard directly from the source that incoming centerback transfer Jordy Rothwell is also strong in the air. And we’ve seen with our own eyes that Taylor Heimerl can aim a perfectly placed throw-in essentially all the way to the PK spot. Let’s see if the service and finishing from those two and others can help earn Minnesota a handful of set piece goals this year.
Gophers vs NDSU
6PM, Monday August 7th
Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium
Gophers vs Iowa State
6PM, Thursday August 10th
Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium
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