Mon. Dec 11th, 2023

Friday marked the third match in eight days between Minnesota Aurora and Chicago City. After the two games last weekend in MN, Chicago additionally had to play Wednesday. City won that home opener, beating the St. Louis Lions 1-0 thanks to a goal by Megan Nemac.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Aurora had a four-day break. Before a home game this Sunday, they had to bus down to the windy city to play “Part Trois” at Chicago’s Speer Academy. Ever travel away from home and discover new food adventures?


Lineups and Tactics – Both Chefs Switch It Up

Minnesota’s front four of the 4-2-3-1 are like Teriyaki Shrimp Skewers: sharp with complementing flavors. A familiar opening dish for Minnesota Aurora is that front 4 press, but Coach Nicole Lukic switched the Shrimp Skewers to Crab Cakes.

Crab Cakes involve shellfish — seems like a similar opening dish but more robust. Aurora started in 4-1-3-2 with Addy Symonds as the lone CM and Kristelle Yewah and Maya Hansen as the two forwards. This may seem similar to a 4-2-3-1, with the advantage of pressing 5 up front rather than 4. In reality it didn’t work out that way. Instead of pointed skewers of shrimp up front on attack and press, the front five formation seemed to crumble like crab cakes without enough eggs to bind.

For the home team, coach Chad Swieca kept with his 3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2. However, one roster change was the secret ingredient of forward Samantha Scaffidi, who could not make the trip to Minnesota last weekend. Like an serrano chili pepper, Scaffidi provided some spice and depth Aurora had not tasted.

First 30 minutes – Spicy Chili

These chef changes had immediate effect in the first half. Chicago City dominated the midfield. With short passes up the middle or long balls over the top, Chicago had plenty of threatening attacks in the first 30+ minutes.

In the 4′ Scaffidi had a give-and-go with Amanda Cassidy. Some miscommunication between Aurora center backs left Scaffidi with space to score and put Chicago City up 1-0.

In the 29′ Scaffidi would get involved again. Off a Katie Montgomery goal kick, Scaffidi one-touched it over to captain Kennedy Berschel who dribbled middle and shot. Minnesota GK Sarah Fuller made a leaping glove save to tip the ball away.

Whether it was the spicy serrano addition of Samantha Scaffidi or the combination with all the other robust meat, onions, and tomatoes, Chicago was bringing the full chili bowl with spice levels uncomfortable to Minnesota’s palette. City had at least 10 dangerous attacks to Minnesota’s one attack early.

Minutes 30-45 – Crab Salad on Corn Bread

At some point in the first half, Minnesota realized the crab cakes they planned were crumbling. They deconstructed the mess, whipped in some more mayonnaise and lemon juice to make a functional but odd crab salad.

What does a chef use to support crab salad? How about some corn bread.

One of the Aurora front would be tasked will falling back more in the central midfield. Often this was Kristelle Yewah or Shelby Hopeau tracking back to soak up Chicago’s chilli spices with some cornbread support for the improved crab salad up top.

Courtesy MN Aurora

Remember that extra mayo and lemon juice? Around the 30′ LW Mariah Hansen and RFB Makenzie Langdok would combine to make a new delicious dish. The ref pointed to the spot. Since the foul happened off screen, I asked Minnesota FB Makenzie Langdok what happened.

“Mariah did what she’s best at: she took a defender on 1-v-1 and had her beat around the outside. The defender had to either foul her or let her give off a free cross.” Mariah took a lemon and made lemon juice — still sour, but useful for brightening a crab salad.

Langdok stepped up and opened her hips to insole the ball hard inside the near post — smooth like extra mayo. I asked Langdok if she was chosen pregame as the penalty taker.

“We don’t really have chosen PK takers, I have a habit of taking a couple each week just in case I need to in the moment. I felt confident so I stepped up to take it. I was really just thinking about relaxing and putting the ball in my spot.”

The half would end 1-1. As soon as the Aurora scored, they played more decisively and at times aggressively. Their front press gained new life. No doubt the remixing of falling-apart ingredients into a better structure helped — crab salad on corn bread: lighter and quicker up top with more support below.

Away supporter Nate Howells brought his family down to Chicago to cheer on MN Aurora FC. MN Revontulet at Black Hart erupted in cheers when he walked by the camera at half time.

2nd half mix – Beef and Tomato Stir Fry

At the start of the second half, MN changed back to their 4-2-3-1 — or was it a 4-4-2? Catherine Rapp subs in for Krystelle Yewah and Rami Rapp subs in for Shelby Hopeau. While Shelby was asked to play more of #10 attacking midfielder in the first half, Rami seemed to drop back and play more like a #8 center midfielder alongside or ahead of Symonds.

The two Rapps injected some speed and flavor depth that Aurora needed to round out the meat and vegetables in their stir fry main course.

In the 55′ Mariah Nguyen flew down the left and shoots high. Katie Montgomery makes the first save, but Nguyen heads the ball over to right wing Jelena Zbiljic who heads it in for the go-ahead goal. After trailing for first time this season, Aurora now led 2-1.

In stoppage time, City were attempting to play out of the back. They completed a few passes until a weak back pass allowed Aurora MF Rami Rapp to pounce. After 2 passes, Morgan Turner is open on the weak side for a nice dribble middle and shoot. Turner scores over the head and hands of Katie Montgomery. Aurora complete the comeback and compound the score count: 3-1, the final.

Post Game Quotes

I asked Aurora’s leading scorer about what adjustments they made at halftime.

Makenzie Langdok: “At halftime we focused on how we could use the space better. The field was super narrow and short, and we were compacting our space on offense a little too much. We also talked about needing to really battle back and compete if we wanted to come away with a win, specifically winning 50/50 balls.”

A couple of MN Revontulet members at Black Hart were willing to give me some game reactions.

Helen Posz: “It was a slow start, but we were able to turn it around in the end. Especially, that last goal really sealed the deal — thought it was a good win.”

David Martin: “I think playing with one holding midfielder and two strikers was a mistake. I think we’re stronger when we have a stronger midfield. Something like a 4-2-3-1 instead of just having one holding midfielder. But they made the right adjustments obviously the second half look a lot better.”


Support Staff Matter

In a restaurant, it’s not just the chefs and food who provide the experience. In a soccer game it’s not just the coaches and players.

Hosts, servers, menu planners, et al. contribute to the enjoyment of dining out. Often these go unnoticed if done well but stick out if done inadequately. Minnesota Aurora has the organization and resources for stadium announcers, a separate “stream commentary” team, a camera crew with multiple cameras, and a grounds crew to paint over American football lines.

At Speer Academy, for much of the first half, the clock was not showing. In the second half, the clock started at 64:45 instead of 45:00 — probably because someone didn’t stop the clock at half time.

In the 63′ Chicago City’s stream went down. Thankfully, Chicago City’s social media provided text updates in place of the video stream.

Howell’s cellphone feed at Black Hart — credit: Matthew Johnson

Back in Minnesota, Revontulet supporters at Black Hart had Nate Howells’ cellphone feed until his battery died. Then Equal Time Soccer provided a live feed for the rest of the game.

This is lower league soccer. While I wish every Heartland team could provide a game day experience like Aurora, I understand why that’s difficult. When I asked Sam Pfeifer of Pod On You Loons, “what did you think of the game?”

Sam’s first words were about the stream: “I was confused about the clock for a bit. Then things froze until I saw Equal Time put up a stream of their own. 

“I mean no disrespect to Chicago because I was on their website today and see how many great things they’re doing across so many levels of soccer, but for the USL-W, we’re spoiled with Aurora. Not only the quality of play, but everything the entire staff does to give fans an easy and quality way to support Aurora.

“Other than that, it was just good to see our team do what it needed to do to grind out a win and stay in the drivers seat for the playoffs.”

Chicago City SC have more teams to manage than Aurora: USL League Two, USL W, USL Academy, and at least 5 youth leagues. Their game day resources will be different. On the other hand, credit Aurora for opening one restaurant and staffing quality across the board.

Setting the Next Table

The table changed with 3rd place Kaw Valley hosting 2nd place Green Bay Glory. An English fan living in Wales updated fans by replying to a MN Aurora tweet. MN Aurora are now 5 points in the lead.

used with Michael’s permission

The Next Course

Chicago City get some much needed rest. They play Tuesday at home versus cross-town rivals Chicago Dutch Lions.

Minnesota Aurora play one of their last three home games this Sunday 1:00 PM against Kaw Valley. I’ll be happy to be back at TCO Stadium, with all the kitchen and server staff to attend to my hungry writer needs.

By Matthew Johnson

Matthew "MJ" Johnson is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. In 2007, he discovered UEFA Champions League. His complex spreadsheets went from college football bowl season to European club soccer, and his fandom soon followed. In 2011, a friend Wes made the mistake of inviting him to an NSC Minnesota Stars game, where he fell in love with local soccer. Matthew co-hosts The Daves I Know podcast and occasionally guest hosts the MN Fútbol Show. When not playing broomball or watching soccer, he repairs bicycles and sharpens knives for money but fuses cuisines for fun. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mjmattsui

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