That headline may seem like a mix between “duh” and “no kidding”, but for the Gophers scoring really has been the big weakness this season. Again, in a game where more goals wins you could argue that more scoring is *always* needed, but for Minnesota it’s not that there hasn’t been enough, it’s that there really hasn’t been almost any.
The walls have been barricaded
Remember, having something specific to critique also means there are areas that are already locked up. The team, as a whole, has been defensively stout. Penn State put up several goals against the Gophs, but they look downright fantastic as a team. Michigan got a couple goals but largely on fluky/bad luck giveaways. Otherwise Minnesota has kept the walls barricaded. And, even in the middle of the field, the Gophers have looked solid (though one lineup change there has had spill-over impacts on the attack -- more on that later).
But that’s in part because even when this team is down, the defense typically isn’t. Remember that the Big Ten Tournament Champs of 2018 gave up 26 goals and “worst in program history” by record 2019 squad also gave up...26 goals. They just happened to drop from 31 goals scored to 11.
Minnesota just needs more weapons
I don’t mean this to say more players who are natural goal scorers (though even the Rutgers broadcasters brought up how excited Head Coach Stef Golan is to see Izzy Brown suit up next fall). I mean more *ways to attack*. This year’s team has done the unthinkable. They have started taking so many outside shots that I [...gulp...] actually think they can dial it back. Yea. Me. I know.
Because the thing is, shots on their own aren’t guaranteed to lead to more goals. Yes, taking more shots from outside is supposed to create some chances on goal, force saves, and create chances for rebounds. But it’s also supposed to open up space in the box for *other* scoring chances by pulling the defense out to the perimeter (like 3 point shooting does in basketball.)
The Gophers have gone from fairly hesitant to shoot from outside, to shooting from outside but not always with enough intention to get mustard on the shot, to now actually taking shots with some zip on the ball. But now they need to take the next step, which is to turn those good scoring opportunities into great scoring opportunities.
Example 1: Sliding the ball across the box for the shot
One example of this (below) came against Rutgers during the solid comeback attempt. In this instance, the shot actually had some good power behind it. But, thanks to numbers in the attack and some lax positioning by Rutgers defenders, there were actually multiple players at the top of the box who could have been fed a nice pass on the ground to rip a shot first touch. It’s not that the player shooting would be any more or less accurate or have more or less power, it’s that teams have started loading up on defense behind the ball against Minnesota, knowing the offense has been a bit stagnant and they can block shots with regularity. But if you roll the ball across the box, the defense will rotate to accommodate and the shot can take place before they establish blocking position once again.
Example 2: Slipping the ball wide, opening up the give-and-go
Another example came on a great shot that ended up just wide of frame. It was dangerous in its own right. A good opportunity. But maybe slipping the ball wide to Duong(? hard to tell from my screen grab) and continuing the run into the box would have either freed the passer up for a give-and-go return pass where they could rip a shot with players rotating to cover (as mentioned above) OR allowed a near post shot attempt from Duong with players also on the move and maybe some defenders blocking the keeper from getting a good line of sight to make a good save.
3 game home stand
To this point, the Gophers have decided to rely on their defensive strengths (like, for instance, putting Duong at holding mid where she can be a strong field marshall stopping the point of attack -- which also pulls her farther away from the final third) in hopes that the offensive attack can either muster the one goal needed to break the 0-0 tie via a corner kick. Or that eventually a counter attack can release a high percentage chance on goal.
But if that defensive focus continues into the three game homestand at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium that kicks off Thursday afternoon, then a big more variety in the attack will be needed to claim victory in each of the entirely winnable slate of games on the calendar.
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