Co-captain Rackley injured as soccer earns split on the road

Jabari Ritchie

This year xxx, Minnesota soccer coach Barbara Wickstrand had expected the team to rely heavily on center midfielder Alison Rackley, the only senior in a midfield which will be put under increased pressure by a new system and formation.

But only 70 minutes into Friday’s season-opening victory at Xavier, the all-region midfielder and Gophers’ co-captain was injured for at least the first third of the season.

“As our center midfielder, she sets the tempo,” Wickstrand said about Rackley’s injury, which is being treated as a broken leg. “It’s a huge whole in the middle. We’re going to have to adjust and handle the pressure without her.”

In their first game without Rackley, the Gophers – with six new starters – were dominated by Cincinnati in a 2-0 loss Sunday.

“It was killing me sitting on the sidelines,” said Rackley, who was on crutches with her leg in a cast. “We have some young faces in there so they’re kind of inexperienced. This is a lot to throw at them in the second game of the season.”

This season, the Gophers are playing with four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards after using three defenders and four midfielders last season.

“It worked fine in the Xavier game,” said Rackley. “We dominated. We were winning 50-50 balls … It was like a completely different team was out there (against Cincinnati). In cases like that, when we are not winning 50-50 balls and the midfield isn’t doing its job, the system doesn’t work.”

Wickstrand said she hoped the change would strengthen an already solid defense without hurting an offense which struggled in 2000. Last season, the Gophers produced only 20 goals while finishing 8-10-1 in the first losing season in the program’s eight-year history.

“We’ve been lacking in scoring the last few years,” said Wickstrand, who is in her second year as the Gophers’ coach. “Right now we’ve got a lot of young players in there and we need to learn how to play with one another from the middle third to the final third of the field.”

Rachael Roth, who led all Minnesota forwards in minutes played last year, hopes to help the Gophers score more goals this season.

The sophomore scored the team’s goal against Xavier in the 85th minute and had a strong preseason, scoring three goals in the first scrimmage.

“I’m a lot more confident in myself this year,” said Roth, who had one goal and two assists in 2000. “I feel like, hopefully, I’m going to have a big impact on this team.”

The strength of this year’s team should be its defense. Three of the four starters – as well as goalkeeper Julie Eibensteiner – are seniors, and one of the team’s goals is to hold opponents to no more than one goal per game.

“That shouldn’t even be a problem,” said Eibensteiner, who had eight saves against Xavier and seven Sunday. “We seem to be on the same page defensively. Obviously that showed in the Xavier game when we got the shutout. Against Cincinnati we still didn’t play bad defense.”

The Bearcats’ goals came from a direct kick and a penalty kick.

“The defense is strong, but our services are weak,” said sweeper and co-captain Samantha Meyers, who was named second-team All-Big Ten last year. “Now that we feel confident in our defense after these first two games, we need to work on making sure our balls are served to our forwards’ feet.”

The Gophers’ other goals are to score two goals a game, create opportunities on free kicks, record nine shots a game and finish in the top half of the Big Ten.

 

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