The Minnesota Golden Gopher soccer team took an important first step towards the Big Ten Tournament and a potential NCAA Tournament berth by defeating Northwestern University 1-0 at Lakeside Field in Evanston, Ill. Friday afternoon. Lindsey Schwartz scored the game’s lone goal in the 71st minute to give the Gophers (8-7-1, 4-4-0 Big Ten) their first conference road victory of the season.
The Wildcats attacked the Gopher defense at the onset of the match, launching eight shots in the first half and forcing Minnesota keeper Lindsey Dare (now 2-1-0 on the season) to make some acrobatic saves in the early going. Minnesota’s defense absorbed the early threats, enabling head coach Mikki Denney Wright and the Gophers to mount a counter attack. The Gophers changed their offensive scheme near the end of the first half, subbing in Sara Clancy as another attacking forward to put more pressure on the Wildcats.
“Making those tactical adjustments towards the end of the first half made a huge difference,” said Denney Wright. “That shifted the game, and in the second half our kids were so committed to pressing them and going after them.”
Junior midfielder Clare Grimwood also believed the scheme change was the turning point in the match.
“Sara Clancy came in and played outstanding for us up front,” Grimwood said. “She held the ball well and was one of the biggest reasons why were able to get that win.”
The mid-match scheme adjustment definitely paid off, as the Gophers were able to muster eight shots (four on goal) in the second half. Katie Bethke narrowly missed collecting her sixth goal of the season in the 38th minute, forcing Northwestern keeper Lauren Johnston to make a diving save. Bethke also narrowly missed an open-net goal in the 65th minute, as her shot bounced off the Lakeside Field FieldTurf and over the crossbar.
However, the Gopher attack finally found pay dirt just a few minutes later when Schwartz scored from just over 10 yards out at the 70:40 mark in the second half. Freshmen Molly Rouse and Angie Olson each were credited with assists on the play. Schwartz now has a career-high seven goals this season and leads the team in that category. It was Schwartz’s first goal in Big Ten play since Oct. 23, 2005 against Michigan.
The assist also marked the first point of Olson’s collegiate career. Northwestern had not allowed a goal in their previous 388:44 of play, a span of over four games.
“We were able to shut the game down after going up 1-0,” said Denney Wright about the Gophers’ second half defensive effort. “You could see our team had learned from the Ohio State game (where the Gophers gave up two late goals to lose 2-1 in overtime). It was a huge sign of growth for a young team.”
Dare, who recorded her second shutout of the year and seventh of her career, made four saves and was under fire from 12 Wildcat shots. She now has a career record of 8-5-2.
Although the Gophers won the game with a late goal, Denney Wright felt that the outcome of the match was actually decided in the first 20 minutes of play.
“The biggest difference today was how we played for the game’s first 20 minutes,” said Denney Wright. “Dare made a couple of big saves, and we absorbed a lot of early pressure they really came out on fire. As soon as we absorbed that first pressure, we started to go at them and we knew we were in the game.”
The Gophers’ four conference wins so far this season is already the program’s second-highest total since the 2000 season. Pending the outcome of Friday’s other Big Ten action, the Gophers will remain in sixth place in the conference standings.
Sunday, Denney Wright’s squad will look to pick up their first Big Ten weekend road sweep since topping Wisconsin (Sept. 30) and Northwestern (Oct. 2) in 2005. The Badgers hosted Iowa Friday night and sit in 10th place with a 1-6-0 conference record (5-9-1 overall).
“Every Big Ten win is a big win, whether or not it’s on the road or at home. We’ve just been more focused this year, and I think we understand that every Big Ten game is a big game,” Grimwood said about Sunday’s match in Madison. “This is our chance to get a sweep on the road, which would be very important for the program.”