The spring season was a bit of a wildcard for the Gophers soccer team. They played a few matches in Italy while seeing the sights, a few matches against Division 2 teams largely with ten players a side due to limited space on indoor fields, and cancelled their last game due to a wonderfully Minnesotan April blizzard (avoiding a dome collapse in the process). Still, after a couple months of spring soccer, we certainly know more than we did before.
So – as the Gophers love to do – we’re going to build from the back and make our best guess at who will start at goalkeeper this fall.
First, last year’s starter – Kailee Sharp – left the program this spring, blowing the competition truly wide open. But the starting goalkeeper position was already going to something of an open competition in part because both Sharp and Maddie Nielsen had quality starts last year, and because shot stopping had been a bit of an issue (the team ranked 312th in save percentage nationwide) last year. Now, with only one returning starter on the back line, the Gophers goalkeeper may have even more shots to save. This means that even for a team that loves to use their keeper for distribution, shot stopping has been clearly and succinctly been named as the top priority.
On paper, the safe bet to start would be soon-to-be sophomore Maddie Nielsen. She has outstanding size and and she went 2-1 against three non-conference opponents last year as a fill-in starter. The eye test would tell you that Nielsen has a solid all-around game. She generally positions herself well and her length gives her a chance to really cover the goal. In games this spring – for whatever they’re worth – Nielsen seemed to rely on the long ball more than you might expect for the Gophers possession-based system but the staff rates her distribution skills fairly well overall.
Nielsen’s competition is freshman Ana Aguado, an early enrollee who has already been practicing with the team this spring. Despite coming in as a high school All-American, Aguado wasn’t necessarily expected to contribute early. At first glance, the coaching staff figured she’d need what most freshman need: some time to development physically and adapt to the college game. Since then, Aguado has seriously impressed those around the team. Even if the rest of her game is still a bit raw, her ability to flat-out stop shots has moved her from "developing freshman" to "possible starter" in just a few months.
This one could go either way. The mostly likely outcome seems to be that the competition remains open through the summer and into training camp. Nielsen and Aguado may even battle it out and split time in exhibition matches before the non-conference schedule begins. Though each keeper has shown enough to start, something tells us Aguado’s rapid development so far shouldn’t be ignored. If forced to guess, we'd say she has the slight edge to win the spot.
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