It was like night and day – literally. Friday night’s game was played in brutally cold, wet, and windy conditions. Sunday’s day game was pleasant and sunny. The Gophers surrendered two goals to an inferior Indiana team Friday before holding the top team in the Big Ten scoreless on Sunday. But the games had one big thing in common: Minnesota found a way to win.
Now, with back-to-back weekend sweeps, the Gophers’ win streak is up to five. For a team that relies on movement, timing, and passing, it seems like head coach Stefanie Golan finally has things really clicking. Early this season you’d notice the Gophers struggling not just to finish but also to make the final pass that created a good chance to finish.
These last few games, the passing and chance creation in the final third has been absurd. The tiki taka passing can come so quickly on a mini-counter attack out of Minnesota’s press that I can’t even lift my phone up in time to record it for all the player parents watching the live tweets back at home. (I had to work the parents into the story because today my scooter ride got me to the stadium 90 minutes before kickoff and I got to eat chili and meet my most avid readers – they are awesome.)
It seems like the team still struggles a bit with finishing those chances off, but it may only seem that way because I’m seeing so many chances created. The Gophers lead the conference in scoring by a wide margin (2.46 goals per game, next highest is 2 per game). Keeper Kailee Sharp and the defense are fourth in goals against average at .68 per game. And if she played enough games to qualify, freshman Maddie Nielsen would rank sixth in the entire conference as well. They are clearly one of the most complete teams in the Big Ten.
With only four games of conference play to go, the Gophers are the complete package. But in order to make it to their third straight national tournament, they’ll need to play a little more like the team that wowed the fans on Sunday and a little less like the team that slogged through a result on Friday.
Oct. 6, 2017 – St Paul
Real talk: the conditions for this game sucked. I usually stand outside the press box so I can capture some highlights with my phone. By the end of each half, my hands were numb. I can’t tell you exactly what players in short sleeved jerseys felt like, but I can tell you the performance was about as scrappy as I’ve seen this season. Indiana’s first goal seemed like a fluke – a quick shot that just happened to get by the keeper. Indiana kept at it, playing a sort of lazy zone defense (something associate head coach Krystle Seidel coined “mock defending”) where players would take a step toward the Gopher with the ball but immediately stall and leave as much as ten yards of space.
By giving that space, Indiana forced the Gophers into long balls that required attackers to sprint down the field and immediately sprint back.
“Even though we’re capable of that long ball and making those long runs, we’re better when we can hold the ball in front of teams a little bit and balance that with runs in behind,” Seidel added. “So that might have played a role toward the end of the game when we ran out of gas a little bit.”
— Matt Privratsky (@MattPrivratsky) October 6, 2017
Oct. 8, 2017 – St Paul
For the whole first half, you could sense the tension building. Purdue was matching Minnesota’s physicality. They were jumping every passing route. And they were making dangerous runs that stretched the Gopher defense to its max. Then, the second half started.
For the first ten minutes of the second half, the Gophers made Purdue look like a group of chickens with their heads cut off. They were passing and moving so well that defenders were left scrambling. In the mayhem, Squires used her quick first step to take the ball, launch a shot, gather her own rebound, and rocket home a goal. This game in particular, you could really see her speed bothering the other team. Though she lacks the same kind of grit and physicality that many of the Gophers are known for, her quickness and touch are downright deadly.
From there, the Gophers were clearly in control. The defense was more organized and sharp. The midfield controlled the middle of the pitch. The forwards were making dangerous diagonal runs and taking defenders on. Any opposing coach who watches the second half will come away nervous – trust me.
I caught a few players and Coach Golan for post-game videos that you can find on Twitter (Squires, Emily Peterson, Golan), but I’ll embed one here of freshman Athena Kuehn. For a team stacked with experienced upperclassmen, Kuehn has come in and immediately carved out a role for herself off the bench. And, considering captain Emily Heslin rarely leaves the pitch, getting minutes in the midfield in and of itself is a pretty significant accomplishment. The next time you’re watching a game, keep an eye out for number 18. She has some serious potential.
Postgame interview with freshman Athena Kuehn – already making an impact in the midfield off the bench. pic.twitter.com/sAI1uN6woJ
— Matt Privratsky (@MattPrivratsky) October 8, 2017
8 p.m., Oct. 12: at Northwestern (Big Ten Network)
1 p.m., Oct. 15: at Illinois (Big Ten Plus)
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