Gophers soccer dominates Illinois en route to a commanding 5-0 shutout win

Senior McKenna Buisman earned her first career brace as she now has four goals in her last four matches, starting as a forward.

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Eric Miller - Photo Courtesy of Gopher Athletics

Senior McKenna Buisman celebrates her first career brace with teammates Sophia Boman and Lauren Donovan in a match against Illinois on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in Falcon Heights, Minn.

by Michael Lyne , Sports Reporter

Fueled by a first-half scoring frenzy of four goals, Gophers soccer (7-4-3) dominated Illinois at home Thursday night in a commanding 5-0 shutout win.

“Tonight was a great response from our last match on Sunday,” Gophers head coach Erin Chastain said. “I thought we were assertive in the attack. I think in the beginning of the first half, that final pass wasn’t there, but then we started to have better selections as the half wore on. We really pinned them in and, outside of a couple of counters that they had, I thought we were really on top of the game.”

Led by their veterans, the Gophers got off to a great start early. It was clear they came into this match with a shot-first mentality as they fired all their shots in or near the box right from the opening kickoff.

At the 19-minute mark, senior McKenna Buisman sprinted down the pitch to challenge Illinois’ goalkeeper at the top of the box to block her clearing attempt and give the Gophers a 1-0 lead after the ball rolled its way into the open net.

“We always talk about those big five moments and really setting the tone and putting our stamp on the game as early as possible,” Buisman said. “Being able to get on the board first was really important for us tonight.”

However, the keen challenges from Buisman did not stop there as she continued to put the Fighting Illini’s backline under a lot of pressure.

Just 11 minutes after scoring the match’s opening goal, Buisman challenged a Fighting Illini defender on the right side of the pitch, winning possession of the ball. She quickly dribbled her way down the field, cut inside toward the middle of the box, and fired a low shot into the right corner of the net to extend the Gophers’ lead to 2-0.

“I think she [Buisman] really did help us set the tone,” Chastain said. “I think it was incredibly important for her to step up as a leader and as a veteran player.”

Buisman’s two early goals for the Gophers mark the first brace of her career. She has scored all four of her goals this season in her last four matches, all of which are the only matches she has started as a forward.

Soon after Buisman earned her brace, her veteran teammates quickly joined the scoresheet as well.

Senior Megan Gray possessed the ball in the top right side of the box, passed the ball outside the box to graduate student Makenzie Langdok, who ripped a one-timer with her right foot off the crossbar and into the net to put the Gophers ahead 3-0 just 38 minutes into the match. Langdok’s goal marks her second this season and also Gray’s second assist.

Yet, the Gophers still were not done there. With three minutes remaining in the first half, sophomore Sophia Boman fired a shot on goal after some commotion in the box. Then, her sophomore counterpart Rylan Baker cleaned up the rebound in front to give the Gophers a 4-0 lead before halftime. Baker’s goal marks his second this season and Boman’s third assist.

At halftime, the Gophers led the Fighting Illini in shots (16-7), shots on goal (8-1), and corners (3-1). They have scored 19 of their 26 goals in the first half this season, the most in the Big Ten.

Holding a comfortable lead heading to the second half, the Gophers utilized the depth of their lineup as freshmen Aynsley Conner and Jaden Peck made their Big Ten collegiate debuts. Junior Eva Bruer also made her Big Ten debut this season.

With just minutes remaining, Conner pulled off a give-and-go with Boman as she fired a high shot from the end line just outside the right side of the box to beat the Fighting Illini’s goalkeeper to give the Gophers a 5-0 lead. Conner’s goal marks the first collegiate goal of her career and Boman’s fourth assist this season.

“[It felt] so good, so exciting,” Conner said on her goal. “These were some of my first few minutes on the field this year playing in Big Ten conference. I just love my teammates. They’re so supportive. They made me feel right at home. All those nerves went away once I was on the field. Just to be able to get that chance to take that touch and try to get something on it into the box and have it go in was amazing.”

The Gophers finished the 90 minutes of action with 26 shots, the most for the team during Big Ten play. It’s also the first time the Gophers have scored five goals in a match since 2017 when they scored seven against Michigan State.

“Throughout the Big Ten season, we’re getting more aware of how capable we are in putting together a full 90 and really playing our game and getting that confidence of how good we truly are,” Buisman said. “Being able to put our stamp on the game, being able to control the flow of play, and do what we want with the ball instead of sitting back and seeing what the other team does, I think was really important and definitely led to our success tonight.”

Junior goalkeeper Megan Plaschko got back into the shutout column as she earned her first clean sheet in Big Ten play. She now has seven shutouts in 14 matches this season.

The Gophers will travel to Evanston, Ill., to take on Northwestern on Sunday, Oct. 17, at 3 p.m., as they fight for a top-eight spot in the Big Ten conference with three matches remaining.