On back to back nights, Minnesota’s two WPSL teams - the Fire and Twin Stars - took on the Dakota Fusion and walked away with a win. But other than the opponent (and the sweltering heat) there wasn’t much in common between the two teams.
Fire get hot late to seal the win
PREGAME | HALFTIME | POSTGAME LANGDOK | POSTGAME BARE
Even before kickoff you could tell the Fusion may be a bit overmatched. While the Fire had to cut nearly half their squad just to get down to a game day roster, the Fusion didn’t even travel with a full 18. Still, from the first minute the visitors made their presence felt with a high press and a physical defense. By the second minute, they were up 1-0 thanks to a quick counter attack.
From there, it was a long stretch of fairly disconnected play from both teams - not surprising considering they’ve barely had any time to practice. That doesn’t mean there weren’t chances. The Fire was armed with serious speed on the wings with Gophers April Bockin on the right and McKenna Buisman on the left. Each had brutally close chances off the post or just wide.
By the end of the first half, the Fire had a bit of a rhythm going. Minutes before the half Mariah Haberle knocked home the equalizer off the bounce, and from there the Fire didn’t look back. Depth and fitness both seemed to help them pull away. Taylor Bare dribbled a few defenders and slipped the game winner past the Fusion keeper (embedded below) and Makenzie Langdok headed home a third goal not much later after moving up top from her starting position at right back.
The Fire had to happy not just with the result, but also the game environment. There were probably a few hundred fans in the stands - including some flag-waving, chanting hooligans. At $10 per ticket, it’s likely on the upper end in terms of cost across the league, but there were concessions and merchandise available to round out the gameday experience. It’s clear the team has prioritized giving the players and fans as close to a professional experience as possible and it shows.
(The Fire went on to draw their second game of the weekend on Saturday, with goals from McKenna Buisman and Annie Williams.)
Twin Stars composed and connected in opening win
PREGAME | HALFTIME | POSTGAME GAFFNEY | POSTGAME SODERHOLM
The Twin Stars came into Saturday’s game with a pretty clear advantage. The Fusion had just got done playing a game less than 24 hours before kickoff and an injury on Friday left them with even fewer players on the bench in temperatures that can only be described as OH MY GOD IT WAS SO HOT. (Sorry. That blurted out. But it was 96 degrees and they were playing on turf).
But none of that should take away from how good the Twin Stars looked on Saturday. They were confident on the ball, their passes were crisp, and they created a lot of quality chances. Head Coach Turk Ozturk talked before the game about how hard it is to get a team ready with such little time to prepare, but they looked really sharp.
And, say what you will about the Fusion - they lost both their games this weekend - but man did they work hard. They defended like crazy and their keeper made at least three goal saving plays when the Twin Stars were alone on goal after a breakaway. They’ll get some results this year on grit alone.
After blocking shot after shot, the Fusion’s luck ran out part way through the first half when Abby Soderholm put the Twin Stars on top for good thanks to a beautiful touch finish to the far post.
The Twin Stars had quality contributors across the board. Their players with maybe the most pedigree (Jade King of Texas Tech, Courtney Henderson of LSU, and recent Gopher grad Maddie Gaffney) all had strong performances. But the player that stuck out the most had to be Morgan Cottew from Mankato State. Wow can she fly. Her runs and breakaways would happen so fast that I couldn’t really even get a good video of it to live tweet.
*ALERT: I’m about to use a reference from before these players were born*
Remember that scene in the movie Major League where Willie Mays Hays jumps out of bed and beats two other players in the 40 yard dash even though he started running after they were already half way done with the race? That is how fast Morgan Cottew is.
*BASEBALL MOVIE REFERENCE FROM 30 YEARS AGO COMPLETE*
The game day experience was a bit leaner out in Minnetonka for the Twin Stars game, but the stadium is nice and they only ask for voluntary donations at the gate. And it really can’t be said enough how well they connected in their passing and movement considering there’s virtually no time to practice together as a unit.
Thanks to both Tori Burnett and Mark Privratsky for their analysis at the games this weekend. Watch the pregame, halftime, and post game videos above and give them some love on Twitter. And thanks to Jeremy Olson for his fantastic photos from the Fire match on Friday night.
Both the Fire and Twin Stars have absolutely put together a quality product. Be sure to check out a game in person if you get a chance. We’ll be giving away WPSL tickets and merchandise all summer.
Supporters giving $10/month and up
Chad Flynn & Mary Lahammer
Salvo Soccer Club