There’s so much going on as college teams get ready for their fall seasons to get started. Polling is being thrown around. Watch lists are posted. And we got our first sneak peak at the 2019 Gophers squad during their exhibition against North Dakota State. With so much to cover, we figured we’d do a roundup of several topics that provide a mix of flavors for everyone.
We got a look at the Gophers during their very first field session together a couple weeks ago. But that was literally the first time everyone had played together, so it was tough to glean too much from that single session. The scrimmage against NDSU, after players had a chance to settle into some new combinations, offered a bit more.
First: the result. Minnesota won 3-0. A fairly standard scoreline for this regular matchup. What was more surprising was the flow of the offense. The Gophers have always built their attack on consistent passing and motion, but this attacking group had a unique spark. That’s significant now only because of how many top line attackers they lost to graduation, but also because of how particularly young and (on paper at least) inexperienced their replacements were.
But let’s start in the back. Maddie Nielsen started at keeper and looked solid. The coaches rave about her improved confidence and, after winning the conference tournament in a shootout, we’re not surprised. The team announced a slight change in formation (kind of) to a 5-2-3 from their traditional 4-3-3, but it really largely played the same. Nikki Albrecht was back to her left side spot of old, Cachet Lue and Marisa Windingstad played in the center, and Katie Koker was on the right. Athena Kuehn shifted to centerback last year, but she essentially played as a holding midfielder as she did as a freshman. Whatever you want to call it, that group of five is going to be solid as hell. Alana Dressely should rotate in as an outside back and Billings could see minutes there based on the matchups as well.
Back to the attack. Part of the zip and pep seemed to come from the injection of freshmen who are in absolutely no mood to mess around. Katie Duong came in with sky high expectations and essentially met them by scoring two goals, but it was her grit and effort tracking all the way back to her own box that impressed even more. More on her later. Manthy Brady has such an easy swagger to her game that you can’t help but watch her when she’s on the field. She has a tall, strong frame but she’s also nimble with the ball and confident enough to really - pardon the language - try sh*t in the final third. Sadie Harper also showed some hustle in her second half minutes.
The returners all looked solid. Hartkemeyer has a quick first touch and some moxy when attacking the goal. Nummerdor and Del Moral had a good mixture of smarts, touch, and spacing - per usual. Ward had flashes. Gray found seams in the defense. It remains to be seen how much their hustle and flow style remains once they’re tested against some tougher competition. But the confidence on the ball was there. A few more games together should tell us how well the defensive press comes along, as well.
Big Ten Preseason Predictions
The coaches poll places Minnesota in 6th (Woso Independent modeled them to finish 9th, just outside the conference tournament range). If things head in the direction they seemed to be going after the scrimmage, it’s hard for us to imagine the Gophers missing the Big Ten Tournament altogether.
Athena Kuehn, Nikki Albrecht, and Celina Nummerdor were also named to the preseason watch list. This got us thinking, if things go well, who else could battle for All Conference recognition? WAY TOO EARLY PREDICTION TIME.
If the team performs well, our best guess for other awardees would be:
Maddie Nielsen (GK)
Duong (MID, Freshmen Team)
Brady (Freshmen Team)
You have to crush it as a team to get that many players on the All Big Ten teams, so it’s not likely that many make the cut. But they seem to have shown the most juice so far.
Duong is going national!
Katie Duong has been named to the U-20 US National Team squad for their upcoming camp in California. Other than it being an easy hand off while the team is already there for their first two matches of the year, it’s such an incredible honor. Her last time with the national setup was back in 8th grade, but with all the attention she received for her youth and high school career (and based on the early flashes we’ve seen) she absolutely has the stuff to compete at that level.
Her teammate Nikki Albrecht has been called up to the youth nationals multiple times, as has recent graduate April Bockin. But we didn’t get a ton of opportunity to actually see them on the field in the red, white, and blue. With many of Minnesota’s non-conference opponents skimping on their broadcasting/streaming setups, we might have to tune in to watch Katie to get our Gophers fix that week (Aug 24-Sep 1).
It’s polling season!
No, not for the presidential race. For our many wonderful college soccer programs! As a dad who yelled at me as he walked away from our parking lot tailgate recently shouted: “there are a lot more Minnesotans playing soccer than just the Gophers, you know!” Yes sir, I agree! And while I can’t cover every single DI, DII, DIII program in the state *and* surrounding states on a game by game basis (we are actually just an I, and I am only one man), we *are* going to up our game.
Every week, when the players of the week are announced for the NSIC (DII), MIAC (DIII), and UMAC (DIII), we will post a twitter poll for each conference that will last 24 hours. The winner of each of those polls will be interviewed for roughly 10 minutes and all three will be combined into weekly video and podcast. We (I) may live. We (I) may die. But either way we (I) are (am) going to attempt to make this damn thing a reality.
Thanks to everyone who has been sharing and clicking on the recent coverage. It helps so much to have people spreading the word. And a special thanks to the new monthly supporters (David Olson, Jim & Kristen Gray, Kristen Nielsen, Erik Allen) who are helping cover the cost of running the website, the podcast hosting, the video equipment, and more. Join them for as little as $2/month at patreon.com/equaltimesoccer.
We chat with Chris Henderson of the Woso Independent podcast about returning Gophers who need to step into bigger roles, the strength of the backline vs the front six, Minnesota's tough schedule, and his Big Ten projections.
You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or in iTunes,Google Play, or Stitcher.
For all the excitement of watching the US win the world cup over in France and the fun of following local WPSL teams over the summer, there’s something special about Minnesota’s top women’s soccer program getting back on the field. As Equal Time Soccer begins its second full season of covering the Gophers (and my third season, personally), it’s easy to use a cliche about “it being the craziest season yet.” But I promise you, this may truly be the craziest season of Gopher soccer you’ve seen in a while. So, with training camp kicking off this week (players report Monday, we’ll have a live report from their first training on Tuesday), we’re here to answer the four biggest questions facing Minnesota this season.
Who starts on the backline?
First, some quick hitting facts to set the stage. NCAA rules allow pretty liberal substitutions but Head Coach Stefanie Golan typically doesn’t like to do much subbing on the back line. Two transfers are coming in as theoretically ready-made starters (Cachet Lue started for years at TCU, Katie Koker played real minutes as a freshman at Marquette). Athena Kuehn shifted to center back as a sophomore after an impressive showing as a defensive mid in 2017 and immediately showed some serious chops on the backline. Nikki Albrecht has All Big Ten potential but will be coming back from an injury during the spring season. And Marisa Windingstad showed she has the athleticism to hang with opposing wingers at the Big Ten level - plus, coaches rave about her passing completion percentage.
For those doing the math, that’s five players for what has traditionally been a four person back line. Will Golan use a bit of a rotation at outside back? If healthy, Albrecht should essentially have her spot locked in at left back. So it may come down to Koker and Windingstad battling on the right side. Though, to be fair, others could fight for minutes back there as well, either because they’re a savvy presence on the field that can help settle things down (Megan Gray) or because they show really well in camp (Alana “Micky” Dressely or one of the freshmen). Expect some rotation during the exhibition games, but by the time Big Ten play rolls around, it’s more likely to be settled.
Who will see major minutes in the front six?
Unlike the backline, there is typically a fair amount of rotation in the midfield and forward lines of the Gophers’ 4-3-3. To that end, we’ll avoid placing too much attention on “who starts” in favor of a more fair but fictional standard we created based on last year’s field time: the Buisman Line. Named for McKenna Buisman, the big/strong/fast attacker who averaged just under 30 minutes per game, the Buisman Line refers to the threshold at which someone is playing enough to be reasonably considered a significant part of the rotation.
Last year, 16 players surpassed the Buisman Line. One was keeper Maddie Nielsen. Five were defenders (Delaney Stekr held down a spot until Emily Peterson returned from her ACL injury). That means ten players saw major minutes in the front six. Of those ten, five either graduated (Castro, Heslin, Fiedler, Bockin) or are likely out for the year with injury (Buisman, unfortunately). Who claims that giant pile of minutes alongside the five returning Buisman Line qualifiers (Ward, Gray, Langdok, McKendrick, Nummerdor)? Based on way-too-early intel and several attempts at reading way too far between the lines of Coach Golan’s quotes in the roster announcement (only half joking...), Katie Duong, Paige Elliot, Manthy Brady, and Linnea Yacovella could all claim some of those minutes as true freshman. Emily Bunnell could also get some as a solid all around midfielder who transferred in from Baylor.
The positions to watch, if they end up in their familiar 4-3-3, are holding center midfielder and center forward. Being the holding mid in the center of the field can be brutally tough. You need to be gritty enough to go at opponents like a middle linebacker but technical enough to change the point of attack on a dime like a point guard. She’s a little light on grit, but TJ McKendrick could claim that spot at the “6” due to her experience and passing ability with someone like Bunnell or freshman Lauren Roberts battling for minutes there on a spot basis. The lack of an experienced, gritty 6 might also mean asking two of those three center midfielders to hold a bit more rather than relying on a single destroyer to patrol the middle of the field.
At center forward, you could see Makenzie Langdok as the consistent, “won’t give away the ball in a dangerous spot” option. We’ve liked Arianna Del Moral and Celina Nummerdor as sort of “false 9” options that are a bit of a hybrid between attacking midfielder and forward. Haley Hartkemeyer really impressed the staff throughout the spring season with her willingness to go at defenders and head toward goal, so keep an eye on her. And, as with the rest of the front six, don’t be surprised if this is all wrong after a freshman absolutely kills it for four days in a row at training and announces to the world that the center forward spot is hers for the next four years somehow.
Who responds well to the added pressure?
Speaking of freshmen blowing up the spot: let’s take a step back and talk about the team at a macro level for a second. Last year and the year before, the team had about 23 players. There were position battles. Surely there was some amount of internal team drama and pressure. But everyone still traveled on every road trip. There were only two keepers (now there are four), so no one ever felt too far away from getting their chance on the field.
This year, with ten freshmen and three transfers, the roster is up to 29. So, first things first, not everyone is going to travel. When you have 23 players, leaving folks behind would mean telling one or two players that they are not good enough. When you have 29 players? It’s a much easier conversation because it’s seven/eight/nine girls staying back together.
More broadly, how are returners going to respond when they see a few freshmen out-battling them for minutes? How are freshmen going to respond when they realize they’ll need a season to acclimate to the speed of Big Ten soccer before truly competing for minutes? These questions aren’t really anything new. But with so many more players battling for those same 16 spots above the Buisman Line, the intensity of those questions will be a little higher. Who will use that extra degree of pressure as motivation? It’s going to be exciting to follow.
Who is this team’s top scorer?
To the question of excitement, let’s take a minute to talk about goals. The Gophers are usually long on players who pass, defend, hustle, and generally play team soccer. They conversely are usually shorter on born and bred goal scorers. Last year, April Bockin decided to light the entire world on fire and score 13 goals, but no one else had more than 3. This year (no “score by committee” answers allowed), who is going to take the top scorer crown?
It’s good for you to get comfortable with this question now because it’s probably the one thing that all broadcast teams will mention this season. The very standard answer for them to give will be Patricia Ward. She flashed some serious potential as a freshmen winger and, when engaged, she’s the kind of threat other teams absolutely have to gameplan for based on athleticism alone. All-American Katie Duong may decide to keep her ridiculous form from high school and club going straight through her college career. Yacovella earned the tag “athletic beast” from Golan (ALERT: reading too much into the recruiting announcement language…?) so could she get on the end of enough passes from natural passers like Nummerdor, Gray, or Del Moral? It’s tough to put odds on this bet. And the “who gets named Captain” bet could be equally interesting. But we’ll save that one for our first live report from camp on Tuesday.
Last but not least
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