Soccer looking to get defensive this weekend

Adam Fink

Playing in its own invitational last weekend, there was one scenario that became an all-too-familiar scene for Minnesota’s soccer team.

The opposition would dump the ball into the Gophers’ defensive zone and give chase. Either the Gophers got to the ball first and cleared or – and this is where Minnesota got into trouble – the opponents would get to the ball and leave the Gophers defense on its heels.

Against Buffalo, the first scenario played out; Minnesota won the game 4-2. But against Creighton on Labor Day it was the latter. The two schools tied 1-1 as Minnesota was forced to play more conservatively due to Creighton’s aggressiveness.

“We didn’t play well defensively (on Monday),” Gophers defender Kjirsten Sigmund said. “Every time you step on the field it’s a learning experience, though. We have to build on it.”

Entering the year, the Gophers defense was supposed to be its strength. Heading into this weekend’s Wildcat Classic, Minnesota wants to see a better all-around team effort in playing defense and allow fewer shots on goal.

Through two games this season, the Gophers have allowed 16 shots on goal.

“We told the team it is a mentality,” coach Barbara Wickstrand said. “Defense is easy to forget. Everyone has to defend from our forwards to our defenders.”

The goal of the Gophers defense is simple: Have the forwards and midfielders attack the ball and not allow the opposition to lob the ball into the heart of the defense.

This will prevent the defense from wearing down due to chasing the ball and allow the offense to gain more possessions.

“We need higher pressure,” midfielder Amanda McMahon said. “We can’t allow other teams to have time to get the ball over the top. And if you don’t have the ball, you can’t play offense.”

“The defense breaks once in a while, but that is soccer,” Sigmund added. “Overall, we are working a lot better together.”

With two unfamiliar opponents in this weekend’s tournament – Ohio and Florida Atlantic – the Gophers will focus on themselves.

Minnesota has never faced either opposing team.

Wickstrand feels that this early in the season it is best for the players not to worry about the opponents.

“As a coaching staff, we want to know about the team we are playing,” Wickstrand said with a smile cracking across her face. “Our kids were intimidated watching Creighton play. I think they would rather see a scouting report than see for themselves.”

Expectations for the weekend matches remain high. Neither Ohio nor Florida Atlantic made a postseason appearance last year.

While Ohio is off to a 0-3 start, the Eagles have compiled a 3-0 record.

Regardless, the Gophers (1-0-1) want to see improvement on the field – and hope that translates into wins.

“We need to go out strong,” Sigmund said. “We have so much potential. We need to show other teams who we are and what we are capable of.”