July 18, 2022
After a stunning 2-1 comeback in quarterfinals on Wednesday, Minnesota Aurora could only rest four days before returning to TCO Stadium. Once again a full-capacity crowd of 6,200 fans filled TCO Stadium on Sunday. This time, for the USL W League semifinals, MN Aurora hosted McLean Soccer (VA) who thrashed Morris Elite (NJ) 8-0 in their semifinal Wednesday. After a gritty 0-0 first half, MN Aurora earned their 13th consecutive win with a goal by Morgan Turner.
“We obviously talked about how they won eight-zero, but that didn’t scare us at all. There’s never been a doubt in any of our minds that we weren’t gonna come out and perform. We all just had faith in each other. We all played love, and that showed on the field today.”Rachel Preston at Union 32 Craft House
“Rumors” – Intelligence Report
Comparing two teams from different USL W Divisions is difficult. Due to the short season and fair(er) standings, teams only play within their division. Playoffs are the only chance for inter-divisional competition, and this is the first year of the USL W league.
As I talked with Aurora fans, the inception initiating much instability and incredulity was the intel involving McLean’s 8-0 win versus Morris Elite (NJ).
At the Minneapolis City game on Wednesday, MN Revontulet leader Stefan Wenc informed me that McLean’s boys and girls youth academy goes from U9 to U19 with multiple levels for both recreational and traveling competition.
After the MN United game on Saturday, four friends educated me that McLean, VA is a “rich” Washington, DC suburb and home to diplomats, federal government workers, and the CIA.
With the exception of 2 high school players and 1 Big Ten player, all McLean Soccer players at TCO Sunday play for ACC or Ivy League universities. Aurora fullback Abby Ostrem commented, “Personnel-wise, this might be one of the hardest teams that we faced. But ultimately, if personnel isn’t able to come together as one, then it doesn’t really matter who’s on the team. We’ve all faced great soccer players no matter where they go to school or no matter where they’re playing. So it’s just another soccer player you’re playing against.”
Indy Eleven has taught Minnesota Aurora fans to expect tougher teams in the playoffs, teams that, like Aurora, dominated their division. However, this means visitors to TCO Stadium have never seen a team like MN Aurora either.
“Grrrls” – Starting XI
MN Aurora started in their 4-2-3-1, and 6 of the 11 starters grew up in Minnesota. Coach Nicole Lukic employed the same front four as Wednesday’s game with Cat Rapp at the 10. Sangmin Cha returned to the Starting XI but at center midfield next to Addison Symonds, who wore the captain’s armband. Abby Ostrem got the call at right fullback with Eli Rapp on the bench.
“We’ve done a good job this season of just trying players in different spaces, but still staying true to our system. So everybody still remains comfortable in what we’re doing and believes in what we’re doing. A big change for us today was having Cha drop into that holding mid space instead of attacking, and she did really well. And she was able to help us stay compact. Her and Addy in the middle were up against some big players in there.”Aurora head coach Nicole Lukic
McLean Soccer started in a 3-4-3 with their top two scorers Aleigh Gambone (7 goals, 9 assists) at center forward and Makenna Morris (7 goals, 1 assist) at right midfield. Angela Caloia who scored 2 goals in the playoffs was at left midfield. Captain Julia Leas was at center midfield and contributed at both ends.
The first half saw more attacking chances from MN Aurora than McLean, but the game was tight. Both teams defended well. Within the first six minutes, MN Aurora already had a rectangle: four corners — but no goals to show for them.
McLean with only three in the back, struggled with MN Aurora’s press.
“We really just wanted to come out and play our game focus on us. We didn’t really focus on what the other team was doing. We wanted to come out press them like we normally do because we believe that they haven’t been pressed like that before.”Rachel Preston at Union 32 Craft House
In the 15′ Maya Hansen was off towards the net when Wake Forest and McLean center back Zara Chavoshi shoulder-pulled her down to the pitch. Chavoshi earned a yellow card. Post game, Chavoshi had this to say about Hansen, “She was great. She really knew how to point out the weaknesses of the backline, and she just kept driving at us.”
Minnesota’s best chance of the half came in the 29′ when Hansen got on a 1-on-0 break. McLean GK Ella Gantman came out strong and got both mitts on the ball. Just before half, McLean worked the ball to the middle just outside the 18-yard box. CM Aria Nagai is wide open but her shot goes well high. The half would end 0-0.
The second half saw McLean move to their 4-3-3. Center back Zara Chavoshi said, “We changed our formation to a 4-back which helped. Coming out obviously with 6000 fans, we had a lot of nerves in the first half. Being able to settle down and play our game: we took that upon ourselves. The coaches had a lot to say, but as a team, we just decided we would control the game.” To their credit, McLean did possess the ball better in the second half than they did the first.
“About Damn Time” – Turner Time
With “Freight Train” Jill Bennett out on a red card suspension, Minnesota subbed in Morgan Turner at right wing for Zbiljic at halftime. Less than 8 minutes after the second half started, Hansen slide-tackled the ball from McLean. The ball hit Morgan Turner in stride. Both the defender and goalkeeper react enough to Turner’s slightest feint right, which opened the shooting lane on her left boot. GK Gantman almost gets to it, but the ball sneaks under her diving body.
EIGHT IS GREAT! Turner with her 8th career goal for Aurora! pic.twitter.com/5UvbtneiIQ— Minnesota Aurora FC (@MNAuroraFC) July 17, 2022
Although both teams would have chances throughout the second half, Aurora with the 1-0 lead gradually sent fewer numbers forward as the game progressed. After what seemed like much longer than the announced stoppage time, Sarah Fuller finally kicked the ball deep, and the referee blew the final whistle. Aurora was through to the first USL W final with a 1-0 victory.
Out here gettin’ loose
Abby Ostrem made several clearances throughout the game and was named the StarTribune “Star of the Game.” Although Ostrem plays for the University of South Dakota Coyotes in the state next door, she grew up in Wylie, TX and was classmates with Sarah Fuller at Wylie High School.
Regarding the journey from the first few practices to where she is now, she responded, “Well, those first few practices, I was a tryout player. So looking at it now: starting, playing 90 minutes, being Star of the Game, it’s definitely not full circle. It’s like 17 levels up.”
“Let ‘Em Say” – Communication is Key
We talked about at halftime that our communication has to be top tier. Because we knew that when it came down to the end of the game, whether we were tied or winning, that they were going to throw a bunch of numbers forward. So it just came down to defending as a team, making sure that we were staying with our marks in the box and doing well, defending one-v-one on the outside.Left fullback Abby Ostrem
Rachel Preston added, “McLean was probably the most dynamic team we’ve played up until this point. So communication, like Abby said, was extremely important: tracking runners, passing runners off, making sure that they couldn’t get behind us, and we did a great job. We all communicated with each other really well. We stayed positive in moments when it got kind of hectic at the end. But you know, we grinded it out.”
Aurora and TCO athletic trainer Rachel West said this on tensions between trainers and coaches: “The coaching staff really works with me, and I have to explain kind of the injury that they have at hand. We’ve had some stuff come up but ultimately we’re both looking out for the healthiness of the athlete, as most of them are going to a fall season next semester. There’s been a little disagreement, but we’ve all sat down and had great communication style behind it, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
“Good as Hell”
Minnesota Aurora have advanced to the USL W League’s inaugural championship game. They will play South Georgia Tormenta who won away at Greenville Liberty 1-4 Sunday evening. Western Illinois University and Tormenta attacker Amy Andrews from Birmingham, England scored 2 goals and 1 assist.
In less than 24 hours of winning the semifinal, the finals were sold out!
Nicole Lukic said, “We’re feeling super excited we get to host the championship game. It’s really honestly a dream come true. We’ve worked really hard to be here, and we’re very, very excited. We have a longer stretch here for some rest and recovery and a good week to prepare.”