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Gophers soccer off to strong start

The Gophers start their season well with a 4-1-2 record in out-of-conference play.
Image by Ava Weinreis
The Gophers team is coming up on its 30th anniversary.

Minnesota Gophers women’s soccer is adding achievement to their program’s 30th anniversary. A staunch defense and explosive offense have led them to a 4-1-2 record at the end of their out-of-conference schedule.

The Gophers defense has been outstanding, allowing two goals through seven matches. This record is especially impressive considering the defensive line is only returning one regular starter from 2022.

Through their first seven matches, the defense has allowed 0.29 goals per match, which would have been good for first in the Big Ten last year by a wide margin. Goalkeeper Megan Plaschko has been essential to securing this result, making eight saves and earning Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Week for her efforts.

While not as consistent as the defense, the Gophers attack has been prolific. They have scored four or more goals three times this season, a feat they only managed once in 2022. The unit is led by attacking midfielder Sophia Boman, who has already matched her 2022 season total of five goals and added two assists.

Wide attacker Megan Nemec has also started well, scoring three goals, assisting once and earning a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week award for her performances in the Gophers’ first two games.

Strong start at home

The Gophers opened their season in dominant fashion with a 5-1 win at home against Niagara on Aug. 17. They outshot their opponents 36-2, putting 18 of those shots on target. 

The five-goal offensive explosion featured four goal-scorers and three assist providers: Nemec scored two, Boman scored one and assisted two and striker Izzy Brown and midfielder Sophia Romine each scored one. 

The attacking momentum continued in a 4-0 win against New Hampshire on Aug. 20. The front line continued to score early and often.

The offensive onslaught continued with season-first goals for defenders Abi Frandsen and Jordy Rothwell and a converted penalty for Boman. 

“Jordy is so sick,” Frandsen said. “She’s awesome to have, she’s such a fun person to hang out with off the field and has this gritty mentality that Erin [Chastain] always looks for in the back line, so I think she’s a perfect fit,”

The Gophers defense once again dominated, allowing one shot on target in addition to their two goal contributions. This run showed the back line had gelled, despite featuring two transfers in Rothwell and Jelena Zbiljic alongside Frandsen and junior Elizabeth Overberg.

The work to make this happen started early, according to Boman.

“Everyone came here pretty early this summer to start workouts and do captain’s practice, so we really got to know everyone since it’s a bigger class coming in,” Boman said of the incoming players.

Mixed bag in Milwaukee

The Gophers’ first trip away from Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium proved to be an obstacle in a 1-0 loss to Milwaukee on Aug. 24. They outshot the home team 10-6, but just three of those efforts were on target, compared to four of Milwaukee’s four.

“This is a very tough place to play, we knew that,” head coach Erin Chastain said. “They capitalized on a set piece and there weren’t many run-of-play chances to score goals outside of us having one in the second half.”

After traveling across town to Marquette, the Gophers did exactly that with a 2-0 win on Aug. 27. The defense returned to their high standards, only allowing two shots, neither on target. The goals were provided by Brown and freshman forward Paige Kalal, who scored her first career goal. 

Statement performances

Staying on the road, the Gophers faced their biggest challenge of the season against no. 22 Georgia on Aug. 31. Despite facing 2o shots, the away team left Athens with a 0-0 draw after a heroic eight-save performance by Plaschko.

The team returned home to a hero’s welcome in a sold-out Elizabeth Lyle Robbie to face St. Thomas on Sept. 3. That crowd was rewarded with a near-perfect performance in a 5-0 win. 

The defense gave Plaschko a much-needed rest, not allowing a single shot, let alone one on goal. Despite missing a penalty, the attack also left no doubt. 

After a first-half St. Thomas own goal, Boman led the way with a hat trick, joined in scoring by Romine. The four second-half goals came in just eight minutes, creating a raucous atmosphere to rival the nearby Minnesota State Fair.

Another road shutout before conference play

In their final game before Big Ten play begins, the Gophers drew 0-0 in an away match against Creighton. Plaschko headlined the strong defensive performance, making four saves to preserve another clean sheet. 

“We’re disappointed with the tie,” Chastain said. “I don’t think we played how we’re capable. We had some great chances to score goals, but got unlucky on a couple. Certainly need to be more clinical with our final pass, run, and moment in front of goal.”

Through seven matches, the team has laid the foundation for a statement season. For years, the Gophers have been defensively solid and their attack has demanded respect, but they haven’t been able to finish better than mid-table in the Big Ten. 

So far, they’ve exceeded the standards of previous years on both sides of the ball and could make their 30th season historic beyond being an anniversary if they maintain these levels into the conference season.

The Gophers begin Big Ten conference play on the road Friday, Sept. 15 at 6:00 p.m. at no. 19 Michigan. Their first home Big Ten match is Sept. 21 against Michigan State at 6:00 p.m.

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