Gophers learn to deal with depth issues as Big Ten season gets under way

Weekend games against Indiana and Purdue highlighted a lack of bodies.

Bob Wothe

Losing by one goal is not something Minnesota’s soccer team wants to become accustomed to.

It’s just happening.

The team has dropped three consecutive matches by that margin, a sobering reality for a team that started the season 3-1 under first-year head coach Mikki Denney Wright.

But what, or perhaps who, is to blame for the team’s recent struggles? The answer isn’t entirely simple, but can be broken down into inefficiencies in two absolutely fundamental parts of the game.

First, the Gophers offense has fallen far short of early expectations. For a team that returned four of its five leading scorers from a year ago, this didn’t figure to be an issue.

Sophomore forward Haley Lentsch, who led the team in goals last year, said last Wednesday that she wasn’t “too worried about points, just putting numbers up on the scoreboard.”

Unfortunately, the team as a whole has struggled to put anything significant on the board. The Gophers rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in nearly every significant offensive category, including shots, goals, assists and points.

Although Denney Wright has continually praised her scoring attack, the results aren’t quite as desired.

Gophers midfielder Kaitlin Neary has done all she can

in scoring six points to lead the team, but points from elsewhere have been few and far between.

“We have so much talent on this team,” Neary said. “I’m confident that Mikki will get the best out of everyone.”

Secondly, the Gophers have struggled with depth. They have regularly admitted to being out-substituted and worn out by the competition. Their two most recent losses, to Indiana and Purdue, came in overtime and with five minutes left in the game, respectively.

In the loss to Purdue, the Gophers said, they were especially hurt by their lack of depth. Junior defender Tierney Palmer-Klein twisted her ankle early in the match, and the Gophers were forced to substitute their top reserve, forward Amelia Kasten, in her place. The lineup was then shuffled to account for the position difference, and the Gophers were left out of position and without one of their top defenders for the rest of the match.

Offensively, it’s difficult for Gophers forwards and midfielders to play 90 straight minutes and face fresh defenders coming into the match around the 70th minute.

Yet, in light of all this, Denney Wright said she is still very confident about the team’s chances the rest of the year.

“You know, we’ve played very well against some great competition thus far,” Denney Wright said. “But pretty soon playing well isn’t going to be good enough.”

Especially if the team wants to meet the goals that so many players, including Lentsch, Neary and goalkeeper Molly Schneider have already set forth for themselves and the team.

“Making the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament is really a huge goal for all of us,” Lentsch said.

To get there, though, Denney Wright said she knows she’ll need her players to fight through the depth problem.

“It’s certainly an issue and will be the whole year,” Denney Wright said. “But we expect our players to take over games and lead the whole way – and if they want to be successful, they’ll have to.”