Playoff spot on line for soccer against Michigan schools

by Jabari Ritchie

Last Sunday, playing at Wisconsin with its season on the line, Minnesota’s soccer team battled back from a second-half deficit, waited a half an hour when lightning hit Madison during overtime, and found the net in the 101st minute to end a four-game losing streak.

That was just to make this weekend’s games at 24th-ranked Michigan (8-5, 6-2) and Michigan State (6-6-2, 3-4-1) meaningful as the Gophers look to secure a Big Ten tournament berth in their final weekend of conference competition.

Minnesota will almost certainly need to come away from this series with points to qualify for the tournament in November.

With no teams having more than three conference games left on their schedule, the Gophers are locked in a three-way tie for seventh place with Iowa and Ohio State. Only the top eight teams make the tournament.

“We have to win the next two games against Michigan State and Michigan,” said sweeper Samantha Meyers, who scored the game-winning goal Sunday. “I think the win (over Wisconsin), breaking our losing streak, has prepared us mentally. Now we have to do it physically.”

On Friday, the Gophers will face a Michigan team that is 6-1 at home and coming off a weekend sweep of Indiana and Purdue.

Wolverines goalkeeper Suzie Grech, who has allowed just 12 goals in 11 starts, earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors after shutting out the Boilermakers and holding Indiana scoreless in the first half.

Grech has six shutouts this season and will be looking to hold Minnesota scoreless against Michigan for the third-straight meeting.

Although the Gophers’ eight goals this season are the fewest of any Big Ten team, Minnesota increased its production last week.

With one goal against Northwestern on Friday and another two at Wisconsin on Sunday, the Gophers scored goals in consecutive games for the first time and scored more often than they had in any other series.

Against a Michigan team that has scored 26 goals, Minnesota will need to keep finding offense.

“We need to get a better rhythm and we need to move up as a team, especially from defense to midfield,” Gophers coach Barbara Wickstrand said. “We’re leaving too many big gaps.”

On Sunday, Minnesota will try to return to its winning ways against the Spartans, who beat the Gophers for the first time in 10 tries with a 1-0 victory in overtime last year.

“Michigan State is notorious for being physical,” said Wickstrand, whose team is smaller than most of its opponents. “Not to take anything away from Michigan. They’re big and strong as well.”

A win against Michigan State would likely put Minnesota into the tournament, since the Spartans lead Minnesota by only one point and have just one Big Ten game remaining.

“We definitely have to beat Michigan State,” said forward Rachael Roth, who leads the team with six goals. “It’s going to be another hard battle, but I think we can do it.”