They’ve finally done it. The Minnesota Gophers soccer team have won the Utah Cup! Granted, that is a fictional trophy that I’m inventing because of back to back matches in the Beehive State(?). But still, two road wins to start off the season is a big deal.
To put it in context, the Gophers finished last season as the second best team in the Big Ten and only finished with two non-conference wins. With four games non-conference matches left, they’re already halfway to matching last year’s tally. Though, to be fair, it doesn’t get easier from here. Sure, Minnesota has a 7 game home stand (if you have never been out to Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium, you will officially be out of excuses by the end of this stretch), but their final four non-conference matches won’t be roll overs. They welcome two quality opponents in Ole Miss and Washington State and shortly after that the defending national champs from Stanford are coming to town. So, to repeat, getting two road wins at altitude was pretty significant.
To get some insights straight from the Head Coach herself, watch our 15 minute chat with Stefanie Golan (below). To see some brief interviews from Fletcher and the Maddies (both Castro and Nielsen) click through to our clips posted to Twitter.
Minnesota 1, Utah 0
Friday, August 17 (Full live tweet thread)
As Head Coach Stefanie Golan mentions above, the first ten minutes or so of the Utah match was…painful. Both teams were spraying passes left and right and there was virtually no sustained possession. The good thing is the game settled into a bit of a rhythm after that. The bad thing is the rhythm was mostly to the beat of Utah’s offense.
But, as Golan and assistant coach Becky Fletcher both mentioned above, the benefit to games like that is you sometime see players grow up real fast. In this case, with so many new starters, weathering that storm in and of itself can be a great learning experience. College soccer is a grind. Teams play two games in three days virtually *every* *week*. So building chemistry is not just about getting your starting eleven comfortable and going from there. It’s about getting essentially your full bench – and all the on-field combinations that come with it – comfortable as well.
Doing all that, on the fly, against a Pac-12 opponent, at elevation, for your first game – it’s a lot to sort out. Thankfully, by the last 20 minutes of the game, the Gophers were putting some real pressure on the Utah defense. And, after a foul gave Minnesota a free kick about 40 yards out, April Bockin flexed some of her Senior savvy with a quick kick. She lofted it to Makenzie Langdok, who flicked it to Patricia Ward, who had just a ridiculous first touch and finish to win it for the Gophers.
Minnesota 2, Utah State 1
Sunday, August 19 (Full live tweet thread)
After a few days at elevation, the Gophers showed some sluggishness against Utah State in the opening minutes. But also showed plenty of grit. And, after they fell behind thanks to a combination of chaos and miscommunication, they focused in and put their foot on the gas.
The first goal for Minnesota came on a fantastic run on the left seam by Molly Fiedler to get into the opposing box and send in a diagonal ball for Castro to finish.
The second goal started with some nice combination play on the right wing and TJ McKendrick breaking through the defense to send into McKenna Buisman – who we can only assume will spend this year and her entire career bullying smaller defenders with her size and athleticism.
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Chad Flynn & Mary Lahammer
Salvo Soccer Club