After dropping its first two Big Ten games of the season, the Minnesota soccer team returns home this weekend in search of its first conference win.
The Gophers play Northwestern at 7 tonight and will take on Wisconsin at 1 p.m. Sunday. Both games are at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in St. Paul.
Last weekend, Minnesota opened its Big Ten season with 1-0 losses to Indiana and No. 19 Purdue. Coach Mikki Denney Wright said that those two losses could have gone either way and the team is just focusing on winning from here on out.
"You never know where the wins are going to come in the Big Ten," Denney Wright said, "We've determined that we need this many wins to get into the NCAA Tournament and those wins can come from anywhere."
The Gophers (6-3-2 overall, 0-2-0 Big Ten) will attempt to get that first win against the Wildcats tonight. Northwestern (5-5-0, 1-1-0) split its first two conference games last weekend with a 1-0 win over Iowa before its 2-0 loss to an Illinois team that is on a three-game win streak.
"(Northwestern is) really hard, they have big players and they're really tough," junior defender Hailey McCarthy said. "They play a lot like Minnesota soccer, so I think it will be a good matchup."
The Wildcats' strength this year has been their offense. Their average of two goals per game and their 20 total goals on the season are both tops in the Big Ten. Leading that
offense is sophomore forward Jenny Dunn, who is in the
top ten in the conference in goals, goals per game and points.
The Gophers will play the only other team with a .500 record in the conference on Sunday when they host Wisconsin (4-3-5, 1-1-0). According to McCarthy, playing the cross-state rival is a little extra incentive to come out hard.
"They're definitely our rivals," she said. "We're for sure going to go out there gunning for them."
The Badgers, like Northwestern, split with Iowa and Illinois last weekend, but on paper, Wisconsin has been struggling on the offensive attack. The Badgers are eighth in the Big Ten in points, goals, and goals per game.
But that doesn't mean Minnesota is looking past them.
"They're a tough team," assistant coach Kyle Singer said. "You always want to beat your neighbor and with us winning it last year, they're going to come up here ready to play and try to avenge that."
This weekend's games could make or break the Gophers in the Big Ten. Two Minnesota wins could put the Gophers two or three wins away from an NCAA bid, but a pair of losses could force Minnesota to win five of its last seven games, with No. 15 Illinois and No. 9 Penn State still on the schedule.
But freshman midfielder Sara Clancy is optimistic about the Gophers' chances this weekend.
"We're refocused and are better mentally prepared for this weekend," she said. "It's our Big Ten home opener and I think that we're going to be really pumped up and ready to go."
Gophers will try to break attendance record
Tonight's game against Northwestern is expected to take place in front of a packed Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
As part of the effort to break the attendance record, the team is offering all tickets for $1.
The current record is 1,751, which was set last year against Purdue in the Gophers' Big Ten opener.
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