Top conference teams await Minnesota

Nick Gerhardt

The offensive firepower for Minnesota needs relighting.

The Gophers (6-4-1 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) face a tall task this weekend in tackling Big Ten co-leaders Indiana (9-1-2 overall, 3-0-1 Big Ten) and Purdue (11-1-2 overall, 3-0-1 Big Ten) while in the midst of an offensive funk.

After pounding out an average of 18 shots per game during the nonconference schedule the Gophers have mustered fewer than 10 per game in the Big Ten.

The situation became evident in their 1-0 loss to Illinois where Minnesota tallied only seven shots, two of which were on goal.

The offense took responsibility for the loss and looks forward to another opportunity to show its explosiveness.

“We need the forwards to anticipate. We need to think quicker and play quicker,” coach Mikki Denney Wright said.

For Denney Wright the problem lies in execution.

“It’s execution on our part. Illinois executed their system better than Minnesota,” Denney Wright said. “I want us to play our best Minnesota soccer.”

The type of soccer Denney Wright describes is the games against Michigan and Michigan State where the Gophers won by pressuring the opponents the entire game.

How much Minnesota will pressure No. 3 Great Lakes regionally ranked Indiana and No. 8 nationally ranked Purdue remains to be seen. Both teams struggled with Michigan last weekend, earning a draw in both matches. The Gophers defeated Michigan 2-1 on Sept. 28.

“Any given day anybody can beat anybody in the Big Ten. It’s probably the toughest conference in the country,” Denney Wright said.

The importance of taking a game against a highly ranked adversary has lent a sense of urgency to the team that finds itself in the middle of the Big Ten field.

“We have to win one of these games,” senior Hailey McCarthy said.

Junior Kaitlin Wagner will return to the lineup after sitting out the last two games with an ankle injury. Her experience and talent in the midfield will help Minnesota this weekend in these pivotal matches.

The Gophers’ best opportunity could come Friday against the Hoosiers, who have played six games decided by one goal.

Sophomore Kristin Arnold, forward (6 goals, 2 assists) and sophomore midfielder Christie Kotynski (5 goals, 5 assists) lead the team in scoring.

“Indiana will be very good up top,” Wagner said.

The Boilermakers look like a runaway train riding the rails of a 12-game unbeaten streak. Michigan snapped their 11-game winning streak with a tie last weekend.

Purdue has scored 35 goals in 14 games, but have allowed only five on the season. They have yet to surrender a goal in a Big Ten match.

The Boilermakers have shut out opponents 10 times.

“Purdue is loaded,” Denney Wright said.

The Boilermakers will give Minnesota a very challenging match but the Gophers have played well against nationally ranked opponents in the past.

At the beginning of the season Minnesota played then-No. 24 Tennessee and lost 1-0 on a penalty kick, playing them very even the whole match.

That past experience might help the team this weekend as they adopt an underdog role.

“I like the idea of being the underdog and taking down a ranked opponent,” Wagner said.

A Gopher win this weekend would shake things up in the Big Ten and further strengthen the resolve of the team trying to become a top competitor in the conference.