The University of Minnesota and University of St Thomas have gone a combined 11 games without a win as they’ve transitioned into Big Ten and Summit League play respectively. At times, the teams have shown well defensively – nearly two thirds of those matches have seen the teams allow a goal or fewer – but on the offensive end, we just have not been seeing Minnesota’s DI programs put many goals on the board. With 6 games remaining for each team this fall, let’s dive into the offensive struggles and what could be done to turn them around down the final stretch of the 2023 season.
What player steps up individually?
The simplest way to gut check a team’s lack of scoring is to ask: are the scorers actually scoring? Are you getting goals from your forward line? Are your attacking midfielders converting the chances they’re getting and creating? Are your aerial threats scoring on the service they’re getting? Because at a certain point, you can create as many expected goals (xG) as you want with your buildup play. But when that xG is created, is it actually being converted into a goal? As star Gopher Sophia Romine puts it “someone’s just got to want to score.”
When a team like the Gophers has as much attacking talent as they have – particularly in the midfield, but also in the forward group – it’s not crazy to put some real scoring expectations on them. The team’s total offensive stats look ok overall, but 14 of the U’s 17 goals have come in three games. In 5 games, they haven’t scored at all and in the rest their scoring has been a significant challenge. For this group, that is – frankly – unacceptable. And it’s led the Gophers to continue to tweak the starting group, the way they sub, and who’s in the rotation as the season has gone on in an attempt to unlock individual players.
For a team like St Thomas, the tweaks have been even more dramatic. The rotation overall has been as broad as you’d expect from the Toms. 20+ players might see time in any game. Even the centerbacks might be rotated (a rarity in virtually any level of competitive soccer). Part of the reason for so many Toms seeing time is that St Thomas really does have a mountain of players who are capable of – at minimum – contributing on a Summit League team. But so many players being rotated in and out also limits every individual player’s ability to settle their role both in that individual game and as their role shifts from game to game. That leads into the next layer of analysis.
Are players in the right place within the formation and system?
If you simply scan a box score after a game and see a traditional forward or attacker didn’t score, didn’t have many shots on goal, etc, your instinct might be to walk away thinking “why did *that player* not step up and impact the game?” And while a certain chunk of responsibility for their performance lands at each individual player’s feet, the role they are asked to play within their team’s system and formation also play a significant role.
In their most honest moments, Gopher attackers might say “this system is somewhat new to me, I’m not getting enough minutes, or I’m not getting enough service.” St Thomas attackers might say “my role changes game to game and my shifts are so short I can’t settle into a rhythm.” And regardless of precisely how much truth there is in those kinds of statements for each individual player you pick out from each roster, there is truth to the fact that where someone plays in a given formation can (significantly) change the way they produce offensively – AND the impact can change wildly game to game based on how the *other* team plays.
In short: finding the right spot for a single player can be hard, and finding the right spot for an entire team can be exponentially harder. It’s why we’ve seen so much tinkering. Ellie Tempero can play as a holding mid/6 but also as more of a box to box mid/8 or even as a technically gifted attacking mid/10. But she’s strong enough and savvy enough that Head Coach Sheila McGill has now deployed her as a centerback. Megan Nemec is a natural winger who has received national acclaim for her ability on outside but Head Coach Erin Chastain has, at times, shifted her to the sole central forward role in the starting lineup to see if something can be unlocked (and to get all three attacking mids – Sophia Boman, Paige Kalal, Sophia Romine – into the starting lineup. Something I don’t disagree with. They all can ball.)
But where people play and how many people play can also be a double edged sword. Play too few and you might be leaving options on the table in terms of unlocking a rotation. Play too many and, despite feeling like you’re making more players happy, you might actually make *fewer* players happy because even fewer of them feel like they’re being given the sized role they feel they’ve earned. In other words, those lineup choices can be unbelievably sensitive. If you find the coach that nails the intersecting factors of communicating roles to players, keeping those roles consistent and/or known, playing enough players to unlock the best performance for their team, but not playing so many that the growth of their best players is limited: let me know. Because it seems like an almost unwinnable challenge.
Is it the correct system and formation?
And finally, even if individual players are doing their best AND they’re put in the best position *within* the given system and formation, things still might not really work. That’s when you might see teams make more foundational tweaks to their formation or system itself. At times you’ve probably seen me speak about formation choices in an overly simplistic binary choice such as “trying to increase the odds of scoring/wing” vs “trying to decrease the odds of conceding/losing”. Add a holding midfielder in place of a striker so your defense improves even if your chance creation theoretically gets reduced a bit in the final third.
Aside from being overly simplistic, it’s also not always entirely accurate. Many times the formation is decided because of a number of factors: the mix of players you have that year, which players can shift to a different position most easily, adjusting to a weakness you’ve had in the past, focusing on unlocking certain players even if it means others might then have to adjust more significantly, etc.
But even after weeks of testing in the spring and multiple days of training before the season starts to set up the lineup you think grapples with those numerous factors best, the games that count in the fall get weighted much more heavily in the calculus of formation and system. After ten games of real life experience, your theories no longer exist as hypotheticals – your games have told you how those theories holdup. Patterns that return game after game no matter how different the opponent is are not some whim to dismiss during a film or strategy session. The challenges that present themselves in those recurring patterns are now nearly objective truths – at least in this moment in time, with this group, in this schedule.
Your formation alone is not the reason for those challenges you continue to face. But after tweaking everything you can about individual performance and where individuals are being played in your formation, changing your formation itself *might* be the thing that helps you finally address them.
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D1 Minnesotans: Summit League kicks off with Dakota rivalries, Dahlien helps UNC climb to #1, and our first quantified "Equal Time Bump"
We are at the point in the D1 season where everyone is now in their Conference season, all still able to hold out hope for postseason chances. The schedulers at the Summit League have made sure we have plenty of local drama in the first two weekends, with every Dakota school playing at least another one, St Thomas getting their crack at their new rivals, and and early matchup of perennial NCAA Tourney players Denver and South Dakota State. Around the country we've got Maddie Dahlien making goals happen for #1 North Carolina, NDSU players scoring goals in a so far winning season, and tons of players making their presence known in our player stat tracker. Jessie Hunt has officially quantified our first "Equal Time Bump" at Northeastern with her fellow Minnesotan Lauren Ahles riding side car for the Huskies. We've got games to watch, stats on 120 players (and counting) and rivalries to stoke!
South Dakota State and South Dakota open Summit League with Jocelyn Tanner and Kayla Anderson in fine form for the ‘Jacks
We finally have Summit League action to watch this weekend and it kicks off with Rivalry games. Look no further than SDSU, so open at South Dakota this Sunday at 1pm, before facing NDSU, North Dakota and Denver to get the league started. We should have a good idea of South Dakota State’s postseason potential after the October 5th game in Denver. Jocelyn Tanner, one of the country’s stingiest keepers last year, is anchoring a Defense that will expect to lockout their Dakota rivals in advance of Denver. Among the many Minnesotans pacing the ‘Jacks, Senior Kayla Anderson has 2 goals and 2 assists on the year (including 1 goal and 2 assists in the rout of Green Bay), and is on track to play more minutes than ever up top along with Maya Hansen. As always, Summit League Network is your home for all Summit games.
UNC makes it through ranked gauntlet undefeated, beating #10 South Carolina off Maddie Dahlien assist
North Carolina is once again the #1 team in the nation, and you can’t really argue at this point. Earlier this year they tied a #10 Penn State and beat #24 USC, nothing to sneeze at. Then, they proceeded to beat #8 Arkansas, #10 South Carolina (away) and tie #12 Alabama away in Tuscaloosa. Minnesota Maddie Dahlien has continued her reintegration to the squad, snagging the opening assist in the close 2-1 win at South Carolina. Dahlien was All ACC Freshman Team last year and has built her minutes all season, starting the last 3 games. UNC goes to #22 Virgina this Thursday at 6pm Central on ACC Network.
NDSU opens Summit League play against Kansas City with MN made winning record
NDSU opens the Summit League season at home, hosting the prairie schools Kansas City and Omaha this Thursday and Sunday. The next weekend it gets spicy with a trip to Brookings to face bitter rival SDSU, before heading to new rivals St Thomas on Sunday Oct 1. The Bison boast 12 Minnesotans as the 3rd most MN squad in D1, so it can be difficult to dole out shine. Right now we’ll focus on Paige Goaley (2 goals in last two games), Jess Hanley (1 goal and 2 assist in last two), and Olivia Watson (2 goals, 1 assist in the last 3). NDSU face Kansas City this Thursday, Sept 21 at 6:30pm on Summit League Network.
Equal Time Bump and Northeastern’s pair of Loons pacing the Huskies to another solid start
Northeastern was .500 in 2021, In 2022 with the help of newcomer Jessie Hunt dropping nation pacing assists all year (as well as another first year to be named), they were 10-6-4. The Huskies have every hope of making another step up this year, part of that being Hunt’s fellow Minnesotan Lauren Ahles (Lino Lakes), who played plenty last year but seems to have found a step up in her Sophmore season. In the last few weeks, Lauren Ahles scored her first ever college goal at UNC Wilmington, and found the net again in a 3-3 draw at Campbell. Nothing has changed this year for Jessie Hunt as she is tied for 4th in the country with 7 assists. Hunt is perhaps our first quantified “Equal Time Bump”, as she had 3 assists in 4 games before our August 29 interview, and has since had 2 goals and four assists in her next five. By the way, Jessie is right behind an INSANE Lexi Missimo’s 15 assists and 12 goals in 9 games at Texas. She *may be going for the silver medal in assists this year.
Games to Watch
ICYMI: Interview with Gophers Elizabeth Overberg and Jordy Rothwell
Player Stat Tracker
Kassandra Schoen - 3 goals, 336 minutes in 8 games
Brisha Musungu - 3 goals, 1 assist, 790 minutes in 10 games
Hannah Pohlidal - 6 minutes in 1 game
Maddie Lo - 0.00 GAA, 33 minutes played in 2 games
Hannah Zahn - 472 minutes in 9 games
Andi Barth - 1 assist, 539 minutes in 9 games
Clare Gagne - .36 GAA, 8 saves, 495 minutes in 6 games
Shay Payne - DNP
Megan Prazich - 798 minutes in 9 minutes
Brooke Davies - 286 minutes in 9 games
Delaney Goertzen - 435 minutes in 9 games
Angela Gutierrez - 2 goals, 2 assists in 420 minutes
Mia Sennes - DNP
Katharine Ashley - 538 minutes in 7 games
Erica Moline - 87 minutes in 3 games
Rilyn Rintoul - 226 minutes in 5 games
Luca Ralph - 214 minutes in 7 games
Lydia Hindt - 1 assist, 410 minutes in 10 games
Long Beach State
Katarina Decaroli - 48 minutes, 5.66 GAA in 2 games
Amanda Cassidy - 2 goals, 794 minutes in 10 games
Jordan Pascarella - 267 minutes in 4 games
Chloe Olson - 1.54 GAA, 7 saves, 233 minutes in 3 games
Abby Ruhland - DNP
Sophia Barjesth - 184 minutes in 6 games
Alma Beaton - 17 minutes in 2 games
Sophia Boman - 5 goals, 2 assists, 664 minutes in 8 games
Grace Fogarty - DNP
Abi Frandsen - 1 goal, 692 minutes in 8 games
Khyah Harper - 2 assists, 279 minutes in 7 games
Sadie Harper - 180 minutes in 6 games
Taylor Heimerl - 1 assist, 303 minutes in 8 games
Paige Kalal - 1 goal, 1 assist, 417 minutes in 8 games
Sarah Martin - DNO
Megan Plaschko - .39 GAA, 20 saves, 696 minutes in 8 games
Maddy Raymond - 15 minutes in 2 games
Maddie Shannon - DNP
Kendall Stadden - 16 minutes in 2 games
Jelena Zbiljic - 417 minutes in 8 games
Emma Frommelt - 37 minutes in 6 games
Lauren Buzzell - DNP
Maddie Dahlien - 1 assist, 244 minutes in 7 games
Ava Bjorkman-Tracy - 1 assist, 560 minutes in 8 games
Katie Alto - DNP
Sydney Bakritzes - DNP
Jessica Machovec - 21 minutes in 3 games
Avery Toms - 112 minutes in 7 games
Paige Goaley - 2 goals, 1 assist, 505 minutes in 9 minutes
Madalyn Grate - 176 minutes in 8 games
Jess Hanley - 1 goal, 2 assists, 571 minutes in 7 games
Kaitlyn Hanson - 240 minutes in 5 games
Kelsey Kallio - 3 assists, 436 minutes in 9 games
Olivia Lovick - 485 minutes in 9 games
Maddie Majewski -47 minutes in 3 games
Izzy Smith - DNP
Ave Stanchina - 1 goal, 1 assist, 272 minutes in 9 games
Mckenna Strand - 513 minutes in 9 games
Loretta Wacek - 1 goal, 1 assist, 422 minutes in 9 games
Olivia Watson - 3 goals, 1 assist, 662 minutes in 9 games
Lauren Ahles - 2 goals, 344 minutes in 9 games
Jessie Hunt - 2 goals, 7 assists in 709 minutes
Northern Illinois University
Jordyn Saddler - DNP
Morgan Barnette - 2 goals, 311 minutes in 9 games
Olivia Bohl - 1 assist, 662 minutes in 9 games
Lauren Heinsch - 4 goals, 2 assists in 9 games
Olivia Knoepfle - 3 goals, 3 assists, 482 minutes in 9 games
Jenna Nyblom - 20 minutes in 2 games
Ramira Ambrose - 33 minutes in 4 games
Sydney Panek - 4 minutes in 1 game
Paige Peltier - 68 minutes in 5 games
Lindsey Birch - 252 minutes in 7 minutes
Anna Wagner - 252 minutes in 7 games
Kaitlyn MacBean - 2 goals, 438 minutes in 8 games
Ella Conger - 49 minutes in 4 games
South Dakota State
Kayla Anderson - 2 goals, 2 assists in 416 minutes
Katelyn Beulke - 1 goal, 1 assist, 232 minutes in 9 games
Lauren Eckerle - 1 assist, 708 minutes in 9 games
Ava Grate - DNP
Maya Hansen - 5 goals, 1 assist, 376 minutes in 7 games
Katherine Jones - 2 goals, 1 assist, 558 minutes in 9 games
Emma Knack - 0.67 GAA, 2 Saves, 135 minutes in 3 games
Jocelyn Tanner - .80 GAA, 21 Saves, 675 minutes in 9 games
Brooklyn Bordson - 535 minutes in 9 games
Izzy Quintavalle - 1 goal, 3 assists, 533 minutes in 9 games
Mary Fetter - 1 goal, 224 minutes in 7 games
Abby Brantner - 2 goals, 549 minutes in 7 games
Ella Bryant - 69 minutes in 4 games
Sofia Caballero - 1 assist, 520 minutes in 7 games
Annika Eckroth - 44 minutes in 1 game
Emma Fournier - 1 goal, 219 minutes in 7 games
CJ Fredkove - 1 goal, 67 minutes in 4 games
Jasmine Gates - 3 assists, 364 minutes in 7 games
Olivia Graupmann - 0.00 GAA, 0 Saves, 18 minutes in 1 game
Abby Hoiska - 1 goal, 1 assist, 130 minutes in 6 games
Lexi Huber - 1 goal, 2 assists, 282 minutes in 7 games
Cedar Jorgenson - 179 minutes in 6 games
Molly Knoblauch - 428 minutes in 7 games
Anna Koepke - 136 minutes in 4 games
Sydney Kubes - 409 minutes in 6 games
McKenna Lehman - 42 minutes in 4 games
Bella Meier - 141 minutes in 5 games
Lissa Mizutani - 1 goal, 416 minutes in 7 games
Mariah Nguyen - 5 goals, 429 minutes in 7 games
Kendall Quall - 549 in 7 games
Camryn Rintoul - 1 goal, 545 minutes in 7 games
Olivia Rowe - 1.14 GAA, 34 saves, 612 minutes in 7 games
Tatum Trettel - 10 minutes in 1 game
Alexis Smith - 327 minutes in 8 games
University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley
Ana Recarte-Pacheco - 2 goals, 480 minutes in 6 games
Madison Monson - 49 minutes in 3 games
Payton Cahill - DNP
Emmy Ellington - 629 minutes in 7 games
Rita Moran - 1 assist, 490 minutes in 7 games
Dara Adringa - 77 minutes in 8 games
Maddie Ishaug - 1 assist, 798 minutes in 9 games
Kenzie Jacobson - 91 minutes in 7 games
Maddie Poor - 17 minutes in 2 games
Clara Broecker - 3 goals, 1 assist, 787 minutes in 9 games
Alyssa Marceau - DNP
4 Things on UMN/UST: Wins to Ties & Ties to Losses, Keeper Play, Scoring Extremes, Winning in Different Ways, Training & Recovery Time
The Gophers and Toms have now played the bulk of their non-conference slate and we’re starting to see more and more of who these squads are in 2023. Before I head out on the road to cover their games in person (St Thomas at Drake Thursday, Minnesota at Creighton Friday), let’s go over a few trends to note for Minnesota’s Division I women’s soccer programs following their first ever regular season matchup.
Wins to Ties, Ties to Losses
As much as I praised the Gophers hard fought tie on the road against a top SEC foe in #22 Georgia, Minnesota saw it as a game they really could have won. When I chatted with freshman standout Kate Childers before her video interview after their 5-0 win over St Thomas, the first thing she (and Head Coach Erin Chastain) mentioned about the Georgia game was that they have to aim for more.
And though a tie against a top team will certainly be valuable for Minnesota in building a post season resume, the result does fit into a trend we've mentioned before: letting wins turn into ties and letting possible ties (or wins) turn into losses. When you look back at your season, it's not about rewriting the entire thing into a fairy tail. It's about those small moments that, either due to bad luck or lack of focus or whatever, turned a hard fought tie or win into a loss (St Thomas vs UNI in their opener, Minnesota at UW Milwaukee) or a really hard fought possible win into a tie (MN at Georgia).
As we approach conference play and the games get even tougher, the margins between those results may only tighten, and the impact of them may only grow.
If you weren't able to watch the Gophers play at Georgia or St Thomas play at the Gophers, I'd strongly encourage you to at least scroll through their live tweet feeds linked above. Because even with wildly different score lines, they both contained some really fantastic individual goalkeeping moments from Megan Plaschko (against Georgia) and Olivia Rowe (against the Gophers).
You might be reading this and thinking: "Matt, the Toms lost 5-0. How in the hell are you going to specifically praise their goalkeeping?!" But if you watch the whole game, you know that Rowe's confidence and quickness off the line and her tactical punch game kept St Thomas in that game far more than they would have been otherwise (reminder that the game was 1-0 until the 75th minute, basically).
And while the entire Gophers defensive unit played out of their minds in order to keep Georgia scoreless, Plaschko in particular was just spectacular. As it turns out, really good keeper play is a total blast to watch.
The fall of 2023 is apparently the era of scoring extremes. We're either living through scoreless and one goal games or we're fully opening up the floodgates with 4, 5, 7 goals pouring in!
But if you only look at the scoresheet after the fact, it can be easy to forget just how differently the run of play and the flow of the game can be from one match to the next. Teams that sit with an incredibly tight defensive shape and build up a nation-leading shutout streak might get a little too confident and throw numbers forward, allowing a ton of goals after not giving up any (Indiana against MN last year). A playing surface, field size, and defensive shape might mean a team can completely slog things down at home much better than on the road (many examples).
But one thing continues to hold true, getting that first goal is still unbelievably valuable for these squads. Not only does it help give you confidence in your individual abilities and team game plan, it forces the other team to take at least a bit more risk getting forward -- opening up even more space for you on the counter and in the attack.
Training & Recovery Time
As I very regularly remind our readers, viewers, listeners, etc: the college soccer season is an absolute grind. You're usually playing two games a weekend. Sometimes you only have a single day off in between those games. Sometimes you're traveling on the off days and the recovery and rest value is minimized. Sometimes you're traveling for *both* games. In short: it can suck.
This particular stretch of the combined calendar for the Gophers and Toms is uniquely "restful". Over the next three weekends, the two programs play a combined 7 matches during a stretch that could typically have as many as 12. I might not have noticed this trend so specifically if not for the formatting of my own internal google sheet (forgive the screen grab image below) and the oceans of white space that jumps out.
What I'll be tracking is: do the teams seem to tighten up some areas for improvement (corner kick execution for Minnesota for example) due to the extra training time and do the teams seem to have just a bit more pep in their step due to a little extra recovery time between matches?
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This week, I'll be on the road covering St Thomas at Drake and Minnesota at Creighton. This kind of trip is only possible because of the support of our Patrons (patreon.com/equaltimesoccer) and our partners Pentz Homes (pentzhomes.com) and Modist Brewing (https://modistbrewing.com/).
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