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.
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