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Gophers soccer defense drops high standards in loss to Michigan State

Minnesota allowed more than one goal for the first time this season in a 3-1 loss to the Spartans.
Image by Ava w
The Gophers’ high defensive standard slipped in this past week’s game against the Michigan State Spartans.

Gophers soccer let their high defensive standards slip, allowing more than one goal for the first time this season in a 3-1 loss to Michigan State at home Thursday. 

Despite the scoreline suggesting a dominant performance by the Spartans, Minnesota controlled possession and the flow of play for much of the game. However, they allowed their opponents to convert nearly every meaningful chance.

The match opened with Michigan State dominating every facet of the game. They controlled possession, pressed hard without the ball, forced the Gophers to play long and imposed themselves physically.

The Spartans were rewarded for this dominance when they opened the scoring in the seventh minute when midfielder Emerson Sargeant slotted a perfect square ball from Raegan Cox on the right side of the box into the bottom left corner of the net. 

However, after a difficult start, Minnesota asserted themselves and began to command possession. The Gophers began to apply pressure in Michigan State’s attacking third but only managed a couple of threatening chances. 

“We realized that we couldn’t be pushed around … We’ve just gotta be a lot stronger,” said freshman forward Paige Kalal, who made her first-ever start in the match. “We had that mindset and calmed down a little bit.”

Those chances mostly came after a winger progressed the ball. The Gophers focused their attacking talent out wide, with senior midfielder and leading scorer Sophia Boman swapping positions with Kalal to control the left wing. 

“Getting Boman in more space where she can run at players and seeing if she could create some chances from there, which she did on weak side runs and off the dribble,” head coach Erin Chastain said of her goals with the change.

The first half mirrored the Gophers’ 1-0 loss away to No. 19 Michigan on Sept. 15. In both matches, Minnesota had their fair share of possession and control but failed to convert their chances and allowed their opponents to capitalize on their mistakes.

The Gophers maintained control into the second half but allowed the Spartans to capitalize on their first real opportunity. A long ball over the top led to a one-on-one between Sargeant and Minnesota goalkeeper Megan Plaschko, who committed a foul and gave away a penalty. 

Michigan State midfielder Justina Gaynor put the ball down the middle and above a diving Plaschko, converting the penalty with ease.

The Gophers got themselves back into the game with a clinical strike from Michigan native Sophia Romine. The chance came after Megan Nemec burst into the box with a dribble from the right wing and ripped a shot across the net. The rebound fell to Romine, who struck the ball back into the net on the half-volley to cut the Spartan lead to 2-1. 

“We had a lot of momentum in that second half and I just wanted to come on, keep that going, drive at their back line and get some chances on goal,” Nemec said of her mentality to make an impact after coming off the bench. 

The Spartans reasserted control with 20 minutes left in the match when midfielder Gabby Mueller dribbled through the Gophers defense in the box and placed the ball into the bottom left corner to restore their two-goal advantage and silence the calls of “Never back down, never what? Never give up” from the Minnesota support.

Despite consistent pressure from the Gophers in the closing minutes, they could not find a second goal.

Minnesota will have to put together a complete effort across 90 minutes on both sides of the ball to secure a better result in their next game against Iowa in Iowa City at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

“It doesn’t get any easier now. We’re gonna go on the road at Iowa, and they’re having a really good year this year,” Chastain said. “It’s trying to turn the page and focus on the next and focus on the controllables and hopefully put 90 minutes together on Sunday.”

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