Resilient soccer still shoots for this season’s victory goal

by Adam Fink

After earning only one Big Ten win last season, expectations for Minnesota’s soccer season were modest at best.

But no one seemed to inform the players of that in August when they set their team expectations for 2003.

This season, the Gophers (5-5-1) agreed on one large goal: six victories in 10 conference games.

Accomplishing the feat would be a five-win improvement over last year and could likely earn the Gophers a spot in the Big Ten Tournament beginning Nov. 6 in Madison, Wis.

Heading into Friday’s nonconference game against Colorado, the Gophers’ 2-4 conference record puts them in second-to-last place in the Big Ten, just behind Iowa.

So are the Gophers underachieving with only four Big Ten games remaining? Or is Minnesota overachieving after topping last year’s conference win total?

“Our ultimate goal (of earning a berth to the conference tournament) is still in reach,” team captain Amanda McMahon said. “We have showed an improvement from last year, but there have been some games we could have won this year.”

Each of Minnesota’s four losses this season has been decided by two goals or less. In those losses, the Gophers have been competitive with their opponents but a lapse or two has been their undoing.

Against Michigan State on Sept. 26, the Gophers surrendered four goals before answering with two second-half tallies. Despite losing 4-2, assistant coach Ellen Obleman said, Minnesota showed its resiliency after facing a large deficit.

“It’s tough to win if you don’t come to play,” Obleman said. “Sometimes I feel like we could be doing better, but realistically, we are still young and still learning.”

In addition, the Gophers have been inconsistent. At times, the team executes the offense flawlessly, but later settles into dumping the ball into the offensive zone and hoping for the best.

Keeping up energy

Fatigue has also been an issue. Against Illinois last Sunday, the Gophers found themselves wearing down as the game progressed. The Illini scored two goals in the second half for a 3-1 win.

This week, the Gophers worked on playing while being tired. The coaching staff put the players through vigorous physical activities and then practiced.

“When we get tired we tend to play long-ball,” forward Amanda Edwards said. “We don’t control the ball as well, and we tend to make mistakes.”

The Gophers’ offense has improved from last year but still lacks a solid scoring threat.

With 17 goals, and seven games remaining, Minnesota is on pace to top last year’s total of 22.

However, the team has essentially abandoned its preseason plan of playing a 4-4-2 formation to generate increased offense. The coaches found the three-forward, four-midfielder, three-defender system (which Minnesota employed last year) to be a better fit.

“This works better for our players,” Obleman said. “We can get numbers into our attack.”

Thursday night’s game in Boulder, Colo., against the No. 12 Buffaloes (10-1-0) will be a challenge. It will also be a break from the Big Ten schedule, which picks up Sunday against last-place Iowa.

The Gophers must win their final four Big Ten games to achieve their preseason goal.

McMahon is still optimistic.

“We can beat Iowa and Wisconsin,” the senior said about the two teams Minnesota is sandwiched between in the standings. “And with Penn State and Ohio State, who knows?

“Anything can happen.”

Despite the outcome of the final four conference games, the Gophers will at least know they improved on their win total from a year ago.

And that’s a start.

Kopietz earns start tonight

Karli Kopietz, who has started all the Gophers games this season, will get the start Friday night against Colorado.

The sophomore was pulled last Sunday in favor of backup Marni Prall after allowing three goals.

Gophers coach Barbara Wickstrand said the battle between the two in practice has been intense this week.

“They are really pushing each other,” Wickstrand said. “They are making each other better. The team has confidence in both.”

Wickstrand said Prall will play on Sunday against Iowa. However, in order to keep the Hawkeyes off guard, she won’t name a starter, only saying Prall would see action.