U soccer is happy with weekend split

Aaron Kirscht

In soccer circles, a two-goal loss is often considered a blowout. But when the opponent — in this case No. 2 North Carolina — is winning its games by an average of 3.8 goals, the Gophers’ 2-0 loss Friday looks more like a moral victory.
And for coach Sue Montagne, that’s good enough.
“We learned … that we can really play with (North Carolina),” Montagne said. “Their aura is gone for us.”
The Gophers traveled to Madison, Wis., this weekend for the Wisconsin Soccer Invitational. Minnesota (12-4 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) followed up its loss to UNC (14-1) with a 3-1 victory over Northern Illinois on Sunday.
The Gophers’ strong play in the tournament opener didn’t go unrecognized by UNC coach Anson Dorrance.
“I give Minnesota all due credit,” Dorrance said. “They came out and played tough, defensive-minded soccer and took us out of our game.”
The Gophers started aggressively, leaving the Tarheels strewn all over the field and drawing more fouls than normal. But Montagne said that wasn’t the plan.
“You never want to have a lot of fouls,” Montagne said. “But I think they happened because North Carolina is such a fast team.”
The Tarheels’ team speed was evident throughout the game. They routinely out-raced the Gophers to the ball on both ends of the field.
In UNC’s zone, that usually meant the end of Minnesota’s offensive rush. In the Gophers’ zone, the Tarheels’ speed usually set up crossing passes that came terribly close to going in the net.
North Carolina buzzed Gophers goalkeeper Dana Larson early and often, outshooting Minnesota 16-9. That margin is deceptively close, however, as much of the play in the second half took place in the Gophers’ zone.
North Carolina scored its first goal at the 14:37 mark on a header by Laurie Schwoy. Schwoy hung in the air for what seemed like five or six seconds before diverting Sarah Daley’s high, curveball, crossing pass from the right side.
The Gophers managed to mount a challenge of their own midway through the first half. But as good as Minnesota was on defense, North Carolina was better. Senior Erin Hussey put a free kick from deep in the Tarheels’ zone right on the mark, only to have it headed safely away by a pair of Carolina defenders. Thirty seconds later, Mikki Denney delivered a corner kick to the far goalpost, where Corinne Bolder nearly got her forehead on it before Carolina goalkeeper Siri Mullinix wrapped up the ball.
That was the last time the Gophers really attacked the Carolina goal. In the second half, the Gophers’ offensive rush consisted mostly of one or two passes into the Tarheel zone before turning the ball over to a streaking Carolina defender.
“One mistake is all it takes against this team,” Montagne said.
Gophers midfielder Jennifer McElmury agreed. In the second half, “We weren’t playing not to lose — we were playing for a win or a tie,” McElmury said. “But we just weren’t able to put the ball in the net when we had to.”
North Carolina, meanwhile, was adept at turning Minnesota miscues quickly around, going from offense to defense without hesitation.
Carolina went on an offensive flurry with 11 minutes left in the game — a pair of corner kicks and a free kick in a 60-second span — but was repeatedly stifled by Larson.
Larson made a sprawling, rolling save on a shot by UNC’s Cindy Parlow in that stretch, eliciting howls of approval from Minnesota fans who made the trip, as well as begrudging respect from the vocal Carolina contingent.
“You never like to give up two goals,” Larson said, “but I still think I played well and the team played well.”
Larson’s only discernible mistake all night put the game out of reach for the Gophers. Late in the second half, Larson charged a crossing pass by Parlow but was only able to deflect the ball before hitting the grass. Larson couldn’t regain her position in the net before Carolina forward Aubrey Falk drilled the ball dead-center, putting the Tarheel’s up comfortably, 2-0.
“There was nothing I could do with that ball,” Larson said. “I’ve never seen a ball hit that hard.”
Montagne said the Gophers’ play around their own net was as good as it’s been all season.
“Our entire defense played really well all game long,” Montagne said, “but we were great when it counted.”
The Gophers may have been shut out for the first time all season, but McElmury said the team can still find a lot of positives in defeat.
“We knew coming in we were a good team,” McElmury said. “Now we know we can play with anybody, anywhere.”

SCORING SUMMARIES

Friday’s Game
Gophers 0 0 — 0
UNC 1 1 — 2

First Half:
UNC — Schwoy 4 (Daley), 14:37.
Second Half:
UNC — Falk 3 (unassisted), 81:57.

Sunday’s Game
N. Illinois 0 1 — 1
Gophers 3 0 — 3

First Half:
Minn — McElmury 11 (A. Johnson), 34:50.
Minn — Kruse 1 (Hussey), 39:13.
Minn — M. Johnson 1 (McElmury), 44:45.
Second Half:
N. Ill. — Rubens (DeNicolo), 64:52.