Must-win matches await streaky soccer team on the road

by Anthony Maggio

Almost three weeks ago, Minnesota’s soccer team beat regionally ranked Cincinnati to build momentum before going on the road for two Big Ten games.

But the Gophers lost both games 1-0 and were forced to regroup.

They did so by defeating 14th-ranked Michigan 4-0 at home last weekend, and they will go on the road for conference tussles with Iowa (5-4, 0-3 Big Ten) and Illinois (5-5, 1-3) this weekend.

Minnesota (6-4, 1-3) believes the solution to the shutout bug it found against the Wolverines will board the plane with the rest of the team.

“It’s about second efforts,” coach Barbara Wickstrand said. “It’s about going in for every single ball as if it’s your last ball. If we do that we’re going to create our opportunities. That is what got us over the edge (against Michigan), from each person doing that and doing their job individually. Then as a whole we came together.”

Coming together is a big issue for the Gophers this weekend, especially considering the gaps in the lineup thanks to injuries.

Midfielder Amanda McMahon, second on the team in goals, assists, points, shots and shots on goal, is out for the season with a broken tibia.

Wickstrand expects senior Kyndra Hesse to fill the void left by McMahon.

“She proved on Sunday she could handle that responsibility,” Wickstrand said. “Kyndra will be the center mid that is creating the opportunities for us and setting the tone of the game.”

Another possible loss for the Gophers is goalkeeper Karli Kopeitz.

Kopeitz came out of the Michigan game with a twisted right knee and did not practice until Thursday this week.

“I’m pretty sure I’m not playing Friday, but Sunday’s still up in the air,” Kopeitz said. “As soon as the swelling goes away I’ll be ready to go.”

While Wickstrand is optimistic Kopeitz will return this weekend, she has taken extra time looking at backups Kelly Kraft and Marni Prall in case Kopeitz can’t play.

Prall took over for Kopeitz in the Michigan game, but Wickstrand told the two goalkeepers Wednesday the job was “up in the air” and depended on how the two did in practice Wednesday and Thursday.

No matter who takes over for Kopeitz if she cannot play, the Gophers defense must step up their play to support the replacement.

“We have to take a lot of pride in our defense and not let any shots get off even more so than we have,” defender Meghan Jones said.

Last season, Minnesota was shut out by the Hawkeyes 1-0, marking the first time the Gophers ever lost to Iowa.

If that isn’t enough motivation for Minnesota, two wins would give the Gophers a .500 record in conference play with only four Big Ten match-ups left. Two losses this weekend means .500 is the best Minnesota could finish in the conference.

“It’s a really important weekend for us,” Wickstrand said. “We’re in the must win. We’ve got to win these games.”

Anthony Maggio covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]