Some of the new Gophers have been on campus since January. Most of the team has flown halfway across the world together to test their skills against a few Italian squads. A handful of players spent time building their chemistry as teammates in summer leagues. Still, for all those situations taught us about the 2018 Gopher Soccer team, it’s nothing compared to what we’ll know after they finally suit up against Utah for their opening match on Friday night.
What we know so far
Here’s what we do know. After all the changes to the coaching staff and the roster, the Gophers will still try to play largely the same way. They want to posses the ball. They want to stretch the defense and open up high quality chances in high percentage areas of the box. Everyone – even the backline and keeper – needs to keep the ball moving and maintain quality spacing in order to make the offense flow.
In the exhibition play we observed, things weren’t quite humming yet. But even without all the cogs connecting cleanly, the Gophers still created some dangerous chances. Head Coach Stefanie Golan especially praised the overall preparation of the squad, saying that across the board it was probably one of the most “ready to go” groups she’s seen (in terms of fitness, learning the system, etc). Still, she knows with so many new starters and rotation players, there is room to grow.
What others think
This is the first of many times where we’ll remind you that Golan has a level of interest in polls that can only be described as less than zero. But she probably doesn’t have a problem with US looking at them.
Across the board, opinions on the Gophers seem to be fairly consistent, if not overly optimistic. But when you dig into the specifics, it can get a little messy. For example, Minnesota finished last year in second place in the Big Ten but unfortunately ended up just missing out on the national tournament. For comparison, two different predictions have picked them to finish 6th or 8th in the conference this year – no doubt a finish that may land them outside the 64 team field. But they also received votes equivalent to being placed 34th in the whole country.
When Top Drawer soccer (one of the best places for comprehensive youth and college soccer coverage at the national scale) put together their Big Ten preview, they had this to say:
One side that has punched above its weight of late is Minnesota. The Golden Gophers bring back April Bockin and Molly Fiedler from a side that finished in second place. A tough non-conference schedule includes Utah and Stanford, so there’s no reason to believe that the team won’t be ready for the Big Ten grind. Despite that second-place finish in the regular season (tied with Northwestern) Minnesota missed out on the tournament, something they surely will wish to rectify this season.
They also gave Bockin and Fiedler some love in their preseason Top 20 list for Big Ten players. (Shhh. Don’t tell Top Drawer about Emily Heslin and Nikki Albrecht. It will spoil the surprise).
Who to watch for
For all the talking other people might do, the Gophers are focused on what they’re doing on the field. A few notes to keep in mind when looking through my best guess at who may end up playing which roles for the squad:
Captain Emily Peterson is currently recovering from a spring ACL injury. So even though she’ll play a huge role in getting these new players up to speed and preparing them to compete at the Big Ten level, you won’t necessarily see her on the field itself.
It wasn’t uncommon for the entire backline to play the full 90 minutes last year while the midfield, and especially front three, rotated a bit more. Expect to see some rotation at the outside back positions. Part of that is the openness of the competition for minutes, but part of it is the fact that playing 90 minutes a game twice a weekend all fall is brutal. And only truly bonkers athletes can typically handle it their first year.
I haven’t figured out how to hack the coaches’ computers yet so I don’t know who will start at keeper. But here is my best guess at where players may land on the lineup sheet.
At Utah – August 17th, 8PM
At Utah State – August 19th, 2PM
*Not an official competition. But one that we recognize.
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