Over the last several months, women’s soccer has dominated the global sports conversation in ways it never has before.
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and athletes competing in it spurred discussions about feminism, LGBT rights and equal pay for professional female athletes. Another recurring theme was encouraging fans to continue watching and supporting women’s soccer after the tournament ended, including the National Women's Soccer League and NCAA collegiate teams.
After a summer of heavy media attention on their craft, the women of Minnesota soccer are feeling a renewed excitement to get back in front of their home crowd.
Head coach Stefanie Golan said the tournament gave the team a boost heading back into the season. She also credited Gophers alumna Molly Fiedler, who over the summer signed with Serbian league team ŽFK Spartak Subotica and played in the UEFA Women's Champions League, with serving as an inspiration to this year's squad.
"I think that they're starting to see the opportunities beyond here if they want to continue with soccer as something as they actually do," Golan said. "I think there's a lot of momentum built in the community for that."
Golan also said the team is hoping fan interest in the World Cup and the increasing popularity of soccer helps draw more fans to their home at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on the St. Paul campus.
"We have a fantastic environment, and building on that is only going to enhance the student-athlete experience," she said.
This year's squad will look different to fans already familiar with the team, as five seniors graduated out of the program. Among those seniors were April Bockin and Fiedler, who combined for 47 points last season. The total points for all players was 97 points, meaning they attributed roughly 48% of the team's goals and assists. This year's team has 13 fresh faces, with ten freshmen and three players having transferred in from other programs.
Senior defender Marisa Windingstad said having so many newcomers is one of the biggest changes from last season, but it's also something to be excited about as players step forward into leadership roles.
"Celina Nummerdor absolutely has been stepping up, and has continued stepping up all season so far," Windingstad said. "Katie Duong is a freshman, and she's absolutely unbelievable. Leadership-wise and just keeping everybody connected. She's a really good anchor in there."
While there is an adjustment from losing key players, Golan said the goal was not to look for exact replacements.
"It's an inexperienced group together, we have some youth," she said. "I wouldn't say that we're necessarily looking to replace April [Bockin] and Molly [Fiedler], it's more so how we can put the best, most dangerous combination of players on the field together."
The team certainly had front-row seats to watch some dangerous players on Tuesday night with a group outing to the sold-out United States Women's National Team Victory Tour match against Portugal at Allianz Field in St. Paul. The USWNT secured another win, with World Cup standout Carli Lloyd scoring two of three goals for a 3-0 final score.
The Gophers play their home opener against Marquette on Thursday, Sept. 5 at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium at 7 p.m.