The Minnesota soccer team will begin defense of its 2008 Big Ten title and try to quickly tarnish the clean slate of Iowa today before traveling to Illinois on Sunday.
The Gophers (6-2-1 overall, 0-0-0 Big Ten) will play the Hawkeyes tonight (7-2-0, 0-0-0) at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium, where they’ve gone undefeated for the past 17 games . Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
Though Minnesota holds a sturdy 8-3-1 record against the Hawkeyes, no game since 2000 has been decided by more than one goal. With Iowa leading the conference in total goals this season , the Gophers will have to rely on a collaborative defensive effort to keep the margin close.
“Right now they’re the best attacking team in the Big Ten,” head coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “They have 23 goals …so they’re going to be tough to break down.”
Junior forward Keli McLaughlin leads the Hawkeyes offense with seven goals, good for second in the Big Ten. If she gets past Minnesota’s back line, which has allowed 31 shots on net this season, redshirt freshman goalkeeper Cat Parkhill can anticipate a busy game.
Parkhill has given up six goals this season, recording five shutouts and 24 saves . Her career-high 10 saves against UW-Milwaukee two weeks ago was the second-most in the Big Ten this year.
Iowa’s sophomore goalkeeper Emily Moran has posted comparable statistics, also allowing six goals and recording five shutouts . She has eight more saves than Parkhill , but the Hawkeyes defense has also allowed nine more shots on net than the Gophers.
Minnesota currently leads the conference in total shots with 160 , but the Gophers have had some trouble finishing. Minnesota lags behind the Hawkeyes’ league-leading 23 goals with 17.
Minnesota’s best chances to score have come from junior forward Katie Bethke , who has scored six of the team’s goals this season. Bethke is third in goals in the Big Ten, trailing McLaughlin by one.
As a team that finishes most often on crosses, Minnesota will have to attack from the outside to force Moran into making last-second decisions.
“Now is the time we need to step up in consistency,” Denney Wright said. “It’s about creating the kind of opportunities that our system creates, and making sure we execute and follow through.”
Tough travel to Illinois
The Gophers will not be able to rely on the comfort of their home unbeaten streak on Sunday when they travel to Illinois (5-3-1, 0-0-0) , where they haven’t won a game since 1997.
The Illini have handed the Gophers five consecutive losses at Illinois Soccer Stadium, which senior forward Sara Clancy partially attributes to the rowdy Friday night fans that make it a difficult place to play.
Clancy expects a Sunday game will bring a more playable atmosphere, but Illinois will be well-rested, going into the game having not played since last Sunday.
Denney Wright said the Illini will be fierce in gaining possession during loose ball situations, so Minnesota will have to be as efficient as possible on its goal-scoring opportunities.
“We need to pressure them all over the field so that we can keep the ball on our attacking half and not worry about their ball-winning,” Clancy said. “If our midfielders can take some shots from the outside, and pull the Illinois defense out, I think that’ll really help us in terms of getting other scoring opportunities.”
Illinois’ defense has given up 45 shots on goal this season, 10 of which have beaten senior goalkeeper Alexandra Kapicka . Kapicka has three shutouts and 33 saves.
Offensively, the Illini have strong forwards that will look to break down the Gophers defense.
Junior forward Jordan Hilbrands matches Bethke’s six goals, but has been remarkably efficient with her chances. Hilbrands’ accuracy at net means the Gophers will have to be quick to shut down her scoring opportunities.
Denney Wright said she trusts the team’s defensive structure, which Clancy said includes forwards and midfielders that keep the back line from chasing too much.
“Our system is built on every person defending,” Denney Wright said.
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
When UMN students plan for a vacation, having trip cancellation travel insurance is a worthwhile commodity to check out.
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