The Gophers enter the most significant weekend of their season fresh off a 1-0 overtime win over Indiana last Sunday. Minnesota enters this weekend’s crucial set of games against No. 26 Purdue and No. 16 Illinois with the nation’s third-best winning percentage (.923) and as one of only two teams in the coutnry - along with No. 1 Notre Dame - with 12 or more victories this season.
Minnesota Soccer will celebrate its annual Rock the Robbie’ promotion this Friday at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in St. Paul. Minnesota hopes to break the all-time Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium attendance record of 1,751 set on Sept. 23, 2005.
The Gophers, who have won 12 games in a season for the first time since 1999, will take on two top-30 opponents in the same weekend for the first time this season when they meet No. 21/26 Purdue and No. 22/16 Illinois in St. Paul.
Scouting the Gophers
Boasting a 12-1-0 record, the Gophers are off to the fastest start in school history through 13 games. Working to build a viable NCAA Tournament resume, the Gophers are well on the way thanks to solid play from their senior leaders.
The Gophers enter the weekend on a high note after defeating Indiana by a 1-0 score in overtime last Sunday in St. Paul. Senior midfielder Kaitlin Wagner finished off a solid performance against the Hoosiers when she fed a pass to senior teammate Lindsey Schwartz just inside the 18-yard box in the 97th minute of play. Schwartz beat IU keeper Lindsay Campbell on a breakaway to give the Gophers their second overtime triumph of the season.
Schwartz’ goal was her team-leading sixth of the season. Five of those goals have been of the game-winning variety, moving Schwartz to within one game-winner of tying a decade-old school record for game-winning goals in a season. Jennifer Walek (1993) and Nicole Lee (1998) currently hold the record with six.
Midfielder Kelsey Hood has been a formidible force this season, helping Minnesota control the center of the field and quarterbacking the Gophers’ counter-attack. Named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week following a solid performance at the Minnesota Gold Classic last month, Hood and the Gopher midfield are among the most experienced groups in the nation. Flanked in the center of the midfield by fellow seniors Wagner and Clare Grimwood, the three Gopher seniors in the center of the pitch have combined for 198 career starts entering this weekend.
Although Minnesota has gotten significant contributions from its midfield and forward groups this season, perhaps the most noteworthy group thus far in 2008 has been the Gophers’ formidable defensive corps. Led by starters Kylie Kallman, Jennie Clark and Krystle Kallman, this group has allowed goals in just three games this season, and has shut down opponents’ top scorers for much of the season.
Buoyed by the performance of her defensive group, senior goalkeeper Lindsey Dare has recorded 10 shutouts in 13 games this season on her way to a minascule 0.30 goals against average. With 10 shutouts this season, Dare is rapidly approaching Dana Larson’s school record of 11 shutouts in a season. Larson’s 11 shutouts came during a 1997 campaign that ended with the Gophers’ last regular season Big Ten championship. Dare’s 0.30 GAA is tops in the Big Ten through last week’s games and ranks 4th nationally. Although her defensive teammates have helped keep the pressure off for the most part this season, Dare has been stingy when tested this season, accumulating a .867 save percentage that leads the Big Ten and ranks 25th nationally.
Entering this weekend’s matches against Purdue and Illinois, the Gophers are ranked among the nation’s top 25 for the third consecutive week in both SoccerBuzz and Soccer America polls released this week. The Gophers are receiving votes in both the NSCAA/adidas and Soccer Times polls.
Scouting the Boilermakers
No. 21/26 Purdue (9-3-2, 3-0-1) returns to the Twin Cities for the first time since the team captured its first ever Big Ten Tournament championship at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium last November. Purdue’s tournament run in St. Paul last season included wins over Northwestern (3-1), Illinois (3-0) and Ohio State (3-1).
This week, the Boilers once again find themselves atop the Big Ten standings following a 1-1 tie with Michigan and a 2-0 victory over Michigan State in West Lafayette, Ind. last weekend.
The Boilermakers enter the weekend tabbed as the top-ranked Big Ten team in the weekly SoccerBuzz national poll and are also ranked 23rd nationally in the Soccer America poll released this week.
Purdue is led on the offensive end by senior Felicia Schroeder and junior Loredana Riverso, who are tied for the team lead with six goals apiece. Freshman Kellie Phillips has dished out a team-leading seven assists.
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Jenny Bradfisch has had another solid season for the Boilers after being named second team All-Big Ten a year ago. Bradfisch has four shutouts this season and owns a 0.78 GAA.
Scouting the Illini
No. 22/16 Illinois (9-4-0, 3-1-0) finds themselves moving up the national polls again this week after a pair of dominant home wins over Michigan and Michigan State over the weekend. For the third consecutive week, the Illini are the highest ranked Big Ten program in the NSCAA/adidas coaches poll. The Illini have been ranked as high as 15th in the NSCAA/adidas poll this season..
In Friday’s match against the Spartans, the Illinois defense was able to keep Michigan State’s dynamic forwards at bay and got goals from Marissa Mykines, Emily Zurrer and Chichi Nweke in a 3-0 win. In a close match Sunday afternoon against Michigan, the Illini extended their home winning streak to 13 games with a 1-0 victory.
After tallying a goal in the Friday contest and playing a key defensive role throughout the weekend, Zurrer was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week earlier this week.
The Illini will play Iowa on Friday night before traveling to the Twin Cities to meet the Gophers on Sunday afternoon. The match between the squads marks the first time the teams have met since the two schools squared off in last season’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. After playing to a 2-2 tie through regulation and two overtime periods, the Illini advanced to the semifinal round after defeating the Gophers 4-3 in six penalty kick rounds.