Re-energized soccer

by Jim Schortemeyer

The Minnesota women’s soccer team can’t think about yesterday.
So what if the Gophers creamed Kentucky 6-0 on Wednesday? What does that mean now?
It means the Gophers (14-5-1) will face Portland (16-2-2), one of their toughest opponents of the season, in Portland on Sunday afternoon. The Pilots are the sixth-ranked team in the nation, a fifth seed in the NCAA Tournament and have placed five players on the All-West Coast Conference first team.
“It was a pretty decent season for us,” Portland coach Clive Charles said.
And then there’s Minnesota. By most accounts, the Gophers underachieved en route to a sixth-place finish in the Big Ten. But the Gophers have turned things around recently.
Minnesota coach Sue Montagne said the victory over the Wildcats and last week’s loss to Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten tournament are the best games the Gophers have played this season.
Freshman Samantha Meyers, who scored her first career goal Wednesday, said she likes what she’s seen over the last week.
“Our team has totally turned around since the start of the season,” Meyers said. “I’m nervous for Portland, but I think all of the freshmen are nervous.”
Although the Gophers haven’t been ranked since the end of September, Charles said he isn’t about to take Minnesota lightly.
“Obviously if they beat a team 6-0 in the NCAA playoffs, you have to be concerned with their ability to score goals,” Charles said.
The Pilots haven’t had too much trouble with opposing offenses — they’re ranked fourth in the nation in defense, and have allowed no more than two goals in a game.
But Minnesota isn’t in awe of Portland, either. After losing to Santa Clara 5-1 in the second round last season, the Gophers have learned from history.
“We made the mistake of being awestruck with Santa Clara,” Montagne said. “A lot of our players have played against Portland or North Carolina before. Yes, they respect them, but it’s not as if they haven’t seen them before.”
The Gophers have yet to beat either team, but they could cause trouble for Portland Sunday. Minnesota’s offense is loaded with weapons like junior Nicole Lee and sophomore Laurie Seidl. Lee is the conference leader in points with 43, and Seidl has proven herself a legitimate goal-scoring threat.
And if the offense gets a lead, the defense is capable of holding onto it. In games where Minnesota has taken the lead at some point in the game, they are 14-0 this season.
Portland has some weapons of its own, of course. The Pilots own a stingy defense, but they also have senior Tara Koleski. Koleski has scored 40 points this season and leads a team that has won its last four games by a combined score of 15-0. None of those opponents were ranked in the top 25, however.
Charles said Minnesota will be tougher than usual for a fifth-seeded team. The Gophers, meanwhile, aren’t talking like a team that’s satisfied with a token appearance in the second round of the tournament.
“I don’t think it’s as if we need to change our whole game plan,” Montagne said. “We’ve been to the second round before.”
Portland has finished as high as second in the NCAA championships, when they went into the 1995 final unbeaten. Minnesota will try to reach the third round for the first time Sunday at 3 p.m.