The Minnesota women’s soccer team opened the spring exhibition season this weekend with a trip to southern California to take on two nationally ranked programs.
On Friday afternoon (Feb. 29), the Gophers dropped a close match to the defending national champion USC Trojans 1-0. Sunday (March 2), Minnesota then traveled south to take on the University of San Diego Toreros, playing to a 0-0 tie before winning a penalty kick shootout 3-2.
During Friday’s battle with Southern Cal, the Trojans scored in the 34th minute when freshman Alyssa Davila cut back on a Gopher defender in deep on the left attacking flank, sending a cross in front of the Minnesota goal. All-American midfielder Ashley Nick slid to the far post space and slashed in, heading the ball uncontested past a diving Lindsey Dare for what would prove to be the game-winning goal.
The Gophers were not without their chances offensively during Friday’s contest. In the first stanza, the best chance for the Maroon and Gold came at the 29-minute mark when Kaitlin Wagner got on the end of a Lindsey Schwartz diagonal pass in behind the Trojan defense. The junior midfielder from Plymouth, Minn. sent the ball just wide of the USC goal.
In the second half, the best chance for the Gophers came after freshman forward Katie Bethke combined with Molly Rouse along the right side of the Gopher attacking formation. Bethke, the Gophers’ leader in assists last fall, sent a cross to the far post where freshman flanker Angie Olson’s header went just over the bar.
The Gophers and Trojans played a statistically even match with both sides recording 10 shots. Southern Cal owned a slight advantage in corner kicks at 4-3, while Minnesota put four shots on frame to SC’s three. Dare went the distance in goal for the Gophers posting three saves.
After the close loss to USC, Minnesota took on powerful West Coast Conference foe San Diego. The Toreros finished 2007 as the runner-up in the WCC to perennial national contender Portland, ahead of traditional power Santa Clara. San Diego spent most of the year ranked in the nation’s Top 25, and finished as high as 18th in one poll before losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Sunday afternoon’s game took place at historic Torero Stadium. Both teams struggled to create quality attacking chances in a game that turned into a physical confrontation in the midfield. The match ended in a scoreless tie, with the Gophers holding a slight edge in shots (6-4), and corner kicks (4-2), while both teams placed two shots on goal.
Junior midfielders Wagner and Kelsey Hood paced the Gopher attack with two shots apiece. The Gophers were led on defense by Dare and redshirt freshman goalkeeper Katie Roberts. Minnesota’s back line played all 180 minutes during the weekend action freshmen Jennie Clark and Kylie Kallman, and junior transfer Krystle Kallman.
Saturday marked the the Gopher debut for Roberts and Krystle Kallman. Roberts registered two saves in 25 minutes of action.
The Gophers won a penalty kick shootout 3-2 at the end of regulation. Kylie Kallman, Wagner, and Bethke converted kicks for Minnesota, while Dare registered a save in the shootout. Both teams agreed to do a shootout before the game in case of a tie in order to practice that situation in an environment that is difficult to replicate in training.
“It was great to pit our veteran team against the defending national champion (USC) and another proven opponent in San Diego,” said Gopher head coach Mikki Denney Wright. “We take a lot of positives from this weekend. To concede a single goal on the road against teams of this caliber is exceptional.”
“Everyone from our forwards to our goalkeepers contributed to that defensive effort. We saw some positive things in our attack also, but we lack consistent execution under pressure in the attacking half of the field right now,” continued Denney Wright. “It is still early in our spring development as a team, and our attacking execution is something that we hope to improve.”
The Gophers will return to their difficult spring exhibition schedule on Sunday, March 30 in Lincoln, Neb. as they will face off with the Nebraska Cornhuskers at 9 a.m. and the Kansas Jayhawks at 1 p.m. at the Husker Soccer Field.