Two tough foes await soccer on the road this weekend

by Jabari Ritchie

In the first four games of the season, Minnesota’s soccer team failed to produce offense, allowed opponents to capitalize on scoring chances and struggled to find consistency. This weekend, the Gophers (1-3) hope to turn that around.

But with the Big Ten schedule starting Friday at Ohio State (3-2) and continuing Sunday at eighth-ranked Penn State (3-2), Minnesota faces a stern challenge.

“It’s going to be a battle,” coach Barbara Wickstrand said. “It’s going to be tough playing at their home fields, but we’ve just got to be ready to play.”

The Gophers have had success against the Buckeyes. Minnesota has won the last two meetings and leads the series 7-2-1. Ohio State, however, looks to have improved since finishing 6-13 in 2000.

The Buckeyes won their first three games, including a road victory over 11th-ranked Connecticut and have outscored opponents 13-8.

In addition, Ohio State features two Big Ten players of the week in defender Jen Miller and forward Lisa Grubb.

Grubb, who leads the Buckeyes with three goals, is one of four Ohio State players who has outscored Minnesota’s entire team. The Gophers have only one goal this year.

“We’re going to have to take it at them and pressure them every step of the way,” Wickstrand said. “Wherever they are, we need to make sure we’re giving them as much pressure as possible to win the ball and give ourselves opportunities to score.”

Another obstacle the Gophers will face in both games is their opponents’ size. The Lions and Buckeyes each have at least 11 players on their rosters over 5-foot-8. Minnesota has three 5-foot-8 starters.

“Ohio State is always a hard-working team,” Wickstrand said. “They’re big. They’re physical. They’re strong.”

For a team trying to play two strong games in a row, Sunday’s game comes at a bad time for the Gophers. The Lions have won five meetings in a row and have a 7-2 record against Minnesota.

This season, Penn State has almost equaled last year’s loss total of three, but only after losing to No. 1 North Carolina and No. 4 Notre Dame.

The Lions are led by All-America forward Christie Welsh, who had her sixth career hat trick two weeks ago against Duke. Welsh is also one of 13 finalists for the Hermann Trophy, soccer’s most valuable player award.

Penn State is getting strong play from senior goalkeeper Emily Oleksiuk as well. She has allowed six goals in five games this year.

“I think it will be key to win the physical game,” Gophers forward Jordan Bieler said. “And we also need to keep possession when we win the ball. We’ll win the ball and then give it away right away, and that’s been a lot of our problem.”


Jabari Ritchie covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]