Two losses drop U soccer in Big Ten rut

by Jim Schortemeyer

Disappointment was all over the faces of the Minnesota women’s soccer team after they lost their second game in 48 hours, 2-1, to Northwestern on Sunday.
That loss, on the heels of Friday’s 2-0 game with Wisconsin, leaves Minnesota (5-3 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten) in a rut. The Gophers hadn’t lost two consecutive games since November 1996, and hadn’t lost a Big Ten conference in two years.
But the loss against 11th-ranked Northwestern wasn’t a total loss to Minnesota coach Sue Montagne.
“Today we saw that they had heart,” she said, “and there was effort today.”
All the heart in the world couldn’t help Minnesota in the first half, when the Gophers were outshot 10-4. Katie Kovatch gave the Wildcats a lead when she knocked the ball through a crowd in front of the Minnesota net at the 23-minute mark.
But Northwestern coach Marcia McDermott knew that the Gophers weren’t going to lie down.
“We’re very vulnerable in the second half,” McDermott said. “Our team has the attitude that after the first goal, the game is over. I told them that against Minnesota, one goal would not win the game.”
Maybe McDermott should consider a second career in fortune-telling. Minnesota dominated the second half, outshooting Northwestern 10-3 and keeping the ball primarily on the Wildcats side of the field.
But it didn’t take 45 minutes for the Gophers to get on the board in the second half, thanks to junior Nicole Lee. Lee scrambled for two shots-on-goal in the first ten minutes of the half; the first sailed wide left, the second was on target.
Lee took advantage of a total defensive breakdown, drove right down the middle and booted a line drive inside the right goalpost. That knotted the score at one apiece, with most of the half yet to be played.
And the Gophers’ opportunities didn’t end there. Five minutes later, junior Noelle Papenhausen sent an indirect kick across the front of the goal, where several Minnesota players dove at it but missed.
Another chance at a go-ahead score came and went when senior Corinne Bolder centered the ball to sophomore Laurie Seidl, who headed the ball into the waiting arms of Northwestern goalkeeper Erin Ekeberg.
Bad luck finally began to catch up with the Gophers with 14 minutes to play. Minnesota defender Vanessa Touset got tangled up with Wildcat Katie Hertz on a breakaway, and fortunately for the Gophers, the referee ruled that Hertz had already shot when she was tripped — preventing a Northwestern penalty kick.
Four minutes later, however, the Wildcats’ Kristen Palmer was driving for a shot when she was tripped by the Gophers’ Erin Holland. There would be no fortuitous call this time; Holland sat on the ground for a moment, perhaps knowing she had been caught.
Palmer didn’t waste the opportunity. She blasted home a perfect shot inside the left post, a goal that would prove to be the game winner.
Wildcat coach McDermott felt fortunate to come out of the game with a win.
“In the second half, Minnesota just outworked us so well,” McDermott said. “By the end of the year, Minnesota may be the team to beat.”
Defender Noelle Papenhausen summed up the defense’s problems after the Wildcat game.
“We had a few breakdowns in the back,” Papenhausen said. “Overall, we controlled the ball pretty well.”
It was a fitting end to a difficult weekend for the Gophers. On Friday, Minnesota was thoroughly beaten by Wisconsin.
Montagne knew before she was handed the stat sheet how bad the Gophers had played. “What a mess,” she said as she read the statistics sheet from the Wisconsin game.
Unlike the game against Northwestern, Minnesota spent most of the second half in their own zone, knocking the ball away from Wisconsin players.
The Badgers started the assault on the Gophers goal in the first minute, when goalkeeper Dana Larson was forced to make a stellar save in the lower left portion of the goal.
Things didn’t get any easier for Larson, who went on to make two more stellar diving saves, one of which was on a penalty-kick.
But the Badgers finally cracked the scoring egg in the 80th minute, with a goal from Maria De Giovanni, and Shannon Brown picked up a second goal for Wisconsin five minutes later to ice the game.
The few opportunities Minnesota had this weekend were defined by a shot from Touset against Wisconsin. Touset banged a shot from the top of the penalty box that caromed off the top of the goal. A few inches lower and the Gophers would have had a lead.
It was close, but not close enough.