Minnesota practices set pieces before Michigan, MSU

Minnesota has allowed several costly goals this season off set pieces.

Minnesota forward Taylor Uhl receives a lob over the head of DePaul midfielder Rebekah Roller at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sept. 9.

Daniel Worku

Minnesota forward Taylor Uhl receives a lob over the head of DePaul midfielder Rebekah Roller at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sept. 9.

Betsy Helfand

Head coach Stefanie Golan and her staff recently watched film of all 11 goals given up by Minnesota so far this season.

They watched goal after goal and made the film slower and slower yet.

What they saw, Golan said, was that eight of the 11 goals had come off set pieces.

A set piece is a possession, typically a free kick or corner kick, that occurs after a foul or a ball exits play.

Minnesota lost its Big Ten opener to Ohio State on Sunday, and both of the Buckeyes’ goals came off of set pieces and from inside the Gophers’ six-yard box.

“The biggest thing we’ve got to take away from [that game] is just on set pieces, the mentality that we have,” senior defender Tamara Strahota said. “The mentality has to be [that] the ball has to be cleared away. Nothing can drop in our [six-yard box].”

The next day, practice was geared toward defensive set pieces. And repetition.

“Each day this week, we’re going to focus on [set pieces]. … That’s just what it takes to be better at it,” Strahota said Monday.

Golan said the team’s biggest problem was set pieces, so the team went into practice seeking the root of the problem.

“If that’s the piece that teams are going to be dangerous on, we’ve got to figure out a way to fix it, because right now, it’s not working for us,” Golan said.

On Monday, the team spent time working on defending corner kicks. They practiced multiple reps from both sides of the field with all three of their goalkeepers.

Strahota said the team was trying to figure out what was causing the team’s lapses on set pieces.

“Is it the goalkeeper needs to be strong in their communication coming out for it, or is it just how we’re set up is different? So that’s what we’re trying to figure out [Monday],” she said.

Golan said the team saw in practice “different players who showed that they can get in the mix and are willing to stick their neck out to do what the team needs.”

The team has been working in particular on corners and balls from the midfield being served into their box. The mentality that comes with it, Golan said, is that “we’re getting a body on somebody, we’re getting to the ball first. And nothing else matters at that moment except for getting somebody on the ball.

“It’s our keepers owning their six-yard box,” Golan said. “The ball should never bounce in our six-yard box, and it’s done that.”

Strahota said in the past couple years, the team has prided itself on defending set pieces well. The team’s struggles with set pieces have been frustrating this season.

“If you watch, if you look at stats from games, if you look at what we’ve been doing in the performance on the field, we’re good enough to win those games,” Golan said. “We just have that one piece that has to get better.”

The Gophers will test their hard work on set pieces this Friday against Michigan at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. They play Michigan State on Sunday.