Improving soccer club hits road for Big Ten matchups

Mark Heller

The Minnesota soccer team has been forced to climb a mythological offensive ladder this season.
They started out on the ground, barely beating Arizona State before losing to Iowa State and Southern Methodist in lackluster offensive performances.
Then they took one step up, splitting the Big Ten’s opening weekend on the road.
And then another step last weekend, creating legitimate scoring opportunities while sweeping Michigan State and Northwestern.
This weekend Minnesota is ready to knock over that ladder and brew up a boiling pot of goals.
Two hitches: Ohio State and No. 5 Penn State.
The Buckeyes are 1-1-1 so far in the conference. But the only thing that matters to Minnesota is the 1-0 loss suffered at home last season.
“Our team owes them both,” Gophers coach Sue Montagne said. “We lost to Ohio State here on our own field 1-0 and we lost to Penn State 3-2 in OT. We feel our destiny is in our own hands in terms of winning the Big Ten.”
The fifth-ranked Lions are still the heavy favorites to win the conference. They are undefeated in the Big Ten and are 3-2 overall after playing the toughest nonconference schedule imaginable. They beat No. 2 North Carolina, then lost to No. 19 Duke and No. 3 Florida.
Back to the ladder. Each week of the season Minnesota has felt a little better about the play on offense. To the untrained eye, it would be hard to see any improvement by looking at the score.
It’s the increase in scoring opportunities that has Minnesota giddy about an explosion in the very near future.
“If you come to the games and see the chances we get, how much we’re on offense and how much we out shoot other teams, there’s no doubt once those goals start coming we’re going to roll,” junior Erin Holland said.
Lots of close scoring chances and a potent offense, but no goals.
Something has to give.
“One of these games we’re going to finish like five of them,” said Alison Rackley. “I agree 100 percent, there’s going to be this explosion. We had three breakaways that we missed (last weekend) and normally that would be three goals right there.”
Rackley has been a part of the steady climb. A couple weeks ago, Montagne moved the former midfielder backup to forward with Laurie Seidl and Nicole Lee. Montagne moved Liz Wagner back from forward to midfielder and Samantha Meyers from the outside back to the middle.

“I think it’s worked out well”, Montagne said. “Rackley makes for a great target at forward. She’s easy to find because she’s tall and strong and holds off defenders well. It’s her natural position and there’s chemistry already there with her and Laurie and Nicole.”
So the Gophers are 3-1, halfway through the conference season and play two teams ahead of them, one of which is in the top five — sounds like another big weekend.
“This is one of our biggest weekends of the season,” Holland said on Tuesday. “A lot of us have been thinking about and it’s five days away. We had a tough loss to OSU last year and we don’t want that twice. Penn State is really high ranked. The last two years it’s been overtime games and a real all-out guts battle on the field. It’s going to be some good soccer this weekend and if we come up big it will be huge for us.”

Mark Heller covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]