Gophers soccer gears up to play their first game in over a year

At 483 days since their last game, the team has been waiting longer than most other athletes to return to competition.

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Kamaan Richards

Gophers Midfielder Katie Duong launches a pass at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 17. The Gophers went on to a tie game with Nebraska, 1-1.

Julianna Landis

After holding onto hopes of a fall season for months, the Gophers soccer team dispersed for winter break with no idea when, if at all, they would next take the field. With a conference-only spring season announced by the Big Ten in late January, the team is back in action on Sunday, Feb. 21 against Nebraska for their first game since 2019.

The team was brought back to campus in late June – a month later than usual. They were able to begin training after a round of quarantining and testing, with some adjustments to their normal workouts to comply with the new COVID-19 protocols. As the semester continued, the return of other programs was an encouraging sign, even as winter sports like basketball and hockey got their start before soccer.

The team was going into their summer workouts with the expectation they would begin playing games close to when they would in a regular season, senior Maddie Nielsen said. But as the fall semester started with a schedule never materializing, motivation became harder to muster as the weeks went on.

“Looking back into the fall, we all put in a lot of work over the summer and we were really thinking we were going to have a fall season and we were preparing for that like mentally as well as physically. So to get that news that [a possible fall season] got canceled was really hard because it kind of made us for a second be like, ‘Okay, well what do we have to look forward to then, like what’s the reason or the purpose?’” Nielsen said.

Being stuck in the limbo of an extended break from games has been tough, and the timing of the upcoming season presented some logistical challenges. In a normal season, the soccer team plays their home games outdoors at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium near the St. Paul campus, but one look at the forecast makes it clear that’s not a viable option quite yet.

The team has been training in the football team’s practice facility, but the field is about 10 yards narrower than the NCAA’s minimum of 70 yards for a competition field, so that was also ruled out. A temporary new home for the program was eventually found in the RecWell’s Sports Complex, the large white dome off of 25th Avenue Southeast, which usually hosts intramural sports.

The Gophers will play Nebraska in their home opener on Sunday, but with so much elapsed time since their 1-1 tie last season, looking back to it for reference isn’t worth it, head coach Stefanie Golan said in a season preview show hosted by Equal Time Soccer.

“To be honest with you, like this game, everybody’s going in blind. It’s one of those things where it’s been so long that, you know, it’s not worth talking about because it’s going to be different than what you think it is,” Golan said. All of the film they were reviewing was their own footage from practice, looking for areas of improvement and things they could tweak to be best prepared for Nebraska.

Like the Gophers, Nebraska’s last season had been something of a rebuild year, and Golan said she knew both teams were ready to get back on the field and put last season behind them.

“I expect it to be two teams that are just like, flying and trying to find themselves a little bit because it’s been so long for both teams… It’ll be hopefully a fun, fast-paced game,” Golan said.

Minnesota will kick off their home opener at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 21, and the game will be available to stream on BTN+.