Friendly confines of home field rejuvenates struggling soccer

by Jabari Ritchie

Nearly a month into its season, Minnesota’s soccer team will finally play at home this weekend. After going 2-4 with four shutout losses since starting the year Aug. 31, the Gophers are glad to be off the road.

Minnesota will kick off a five-game homestand with Friday’s game against Illinois and a match against Iowa on Sunday afternoon. The Gophers’ home opener was delayed by two weeks when games against Iowa State and Detroit-Mercy were postponed and cancelled.

“Everyone is really excited for our home game,” forward Hailee Walsh said. “It will be nice to be on our home field and sleep in our own beds and have our own fans in the stands.”

The weekend could also be one of the most important in Minnesota’s schedule. After splitting their first two Big Ten games with a 1-0 win over Ohio State and a 4-0 loss to Penn State, the Gophers want to get on track.

“I think this is a pivotal weekend,” said midfielder Alison Rackley. “We need these two wins and those are two beatable teams.”

Minnesota is looking to beat the Illini for the first time since 1998, but the Gophers are expecting a tough game. Illinois (4-2, 2-0), which started the season ranked 18th in the country, has played well this season.

The Illini – who scored 10 goals in their first two games of the year – lost to No. 23 Syracuse and 21st-ranked Marquette.

They lost no starters from last year’s NCAA tournament team, but freshman Leisha Alcia has started in goal for Illinois. Alcia, who has 25 saves and a 1.31 goals against average this year, was named Big Ten defensive player of the week last weekend.

While the Illini have performed well against Minnesota recently, the Gophers have never lost to Iowa. In 2000, one-fourth of all Minnesota goals were scored against the Hawkeyes in a 5-1 win.

In four meetings, the Gophers have outscored Iowa 15-2.

“We kind of broke out our scoring last year against them, but that was the only game we really did,” Wickstrand said. “With the way this year’s been going so far, I think it will be a lot closer game.”

The Hawkeyes (2-5, 1-1) have struggled offensively almost as much as Minnesota has this season, scoring five goals in seven games. But Iowa’s opponents have averaged one goal per game.

In both games, the Gophers will probably need to produce more than the one goal and two shots they had in last weekend’s games against Ohio State and Penn State.

“I think we need to shoot and have offense and just go hard into every tackle,” defender Allyson Brodie said. “We need to want to win the game and every ball…. Illinois is extremely tough, but all of our Big Ten games are tough now.”


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