Friday night’s soccer game between Iowa State and No. 22 Minnesota in Ames, Iowa doesn’t give the impression of being an Ali-Frazier title bout. It sounds more like the infamous McNeely-Tyson 89-second skirmish.
But Cyclones coach Cathy Klein has her squad riding three straight wins and a 3-1 start.
In those three wins, the Cyclones have outscored their opponents 13-0. In fact, Iowa State’s only loss came in the season opener against 24th-ranked Baylor 2-1 in overtime.
So the McNeely-Tyson scenario isn’t too likely to unfold, especially because the Gophers feel they have some things to work on.
“We need to keep the sameintensity (against Iowa State) for 90 minutes,” senior defender Noelle Papenhausen said. “We have some new people and it took a little adjusting, but we held (Arizona State) off and played pretty well.”
They held the Sun Devils off in a 1-0 win last Saturday, but not by much. Arizona State had only three shots all game, but spent far more time in Minnesota’s zone during the second half than the Gophers would have liked.
“We got caught pressing on offense, and then we turned the ball over,” Gophers coach Sue Montagne said. “So we were spread thin defensively and back on our heels.”
And with Iowa State having scored 13 goals in the last three games, Montagne is hoping those adjustments in practice will carry over.
“We’re playing two legitimate teams this weekend and it does no good to look ahead,” Montagne said. “If we lose to Iowa State, it’s going to hurt.”
After today’s game, Minnesota will host Southern Methodist on Sunday in their last game before starting their Big Ten season next weekend at Illinois and Iowa.
SMU is 2-2, but it’s last two games have been losses to nationally-ranked Texas A&M and Clemson. The Gophers squeezed past the Mustangs last year, winning 2-1 in Texas.
“Texas is a strong soccer state,” Montagne said. “It was a great end-to-end game. They are fast and very physical.”
The Gophers know that every game is important if they want to be included in the final 48 teams for the NCAA tournament. But they want to win the conference first, and these last two nonconference games could be a good tuneup for setting player’s spots and lineups for next week.
“I don’t think there’ll be a big change in playing time for us,” sophomore midfielder Allyson Brodie said, referring to the difference between conference and nonconference games. “The coaches are trying to feel out and get a good mixture and where to put people.”
The hope is that Montagne has her lineup problems set before today, or after Sunday’s game at the latest. Iowa State and SMU could turn out to be good tests for Minnesota instead of the usual cream puffs teams try to fill their nonconference schedule with. Montagne is expecting two wins, and the Gophers may very well need these two come November.
It won’t be “The Thrilla in Manilla,” but no team is going to win in less than two minutes either.
“Every game is important, even if it’s nonconference and out of our region,” she said. “If they’re ranked later in the season, when it’s (NCAA) tournament time, the selection committee is going to look at how teams did against nonconference teams.”
Mark Heller covers women’s soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]