Kristelle Yewah, Morgan Stone, Tianna Harris, Abby Ostrem, and Kennedy Faulknor pose before the game – Photo courtesy of Daniel Mick
Wednesday, May 24 was the first USL W League match between two teams from the Land of 10,000 Lakes: Minnesota Aurora versus Rochester FC. For Aurora FC, this was their season opener which brought in 5187 fans, which journalist Theo Lloyd-Hughes points out is more than two NWSL clubs’ home openers.
Rochester was just coming off their home and season opener over the weekend, losing only 0-1 versus Bavarian United SC. Bavarians outshot Rochester 20-6, and Rochester captain and goalkeeper Coco Alcalde de Blas kept them in the game with 12 saves.
Wednesday, Aurora dominated possession and chances. They won 5-0, surpassing their 5-1 win at Green Bay last year. How did this all happen? Let’s take a look at what’s cooking.
Who’s In Your Kitchen?
Play-by-play commentator Jake Griffith pointed out on the broadcast Nicole Lukic said that choosing this Starting XI and Gameday 18 was the hardest decision. Aurora’s starting lineup included six returning players and five new players.
The five newbies have an impressive range of experiences. RW Sophie French was a national team replacement player for the Portland Thorns, and MF Hannah Adler has experience with Racing Louisville as well as clubs in Denmark and Israel. The Toronto Twosome at center back includes Kennedy Faulknor who last played in Australia and Tianna Harris, named in the USL W’s “Seven New Players to Watch This Season.” Penn State’s Amanda Poorbaugh started in net.
“We had friendlies last Saturday and took a little bit more bumps than we wanted to. Kelsey is out with a hamstring, but recovery is going well — not sure how many days left but definitely trending in a good direction for us. And Taylor Kane took a little nick to her thumb, so more of just a precaution to make sure she stays healthy for the rest of the season.”Aurora head coach Nicole Lukic, post-game press conference
Rochester FC’s Chefs
Absences didn’t only affect Aurora. Two of Rochester’s attackers were out: Maira Alevato from Brazil (Northern Iowa) and Ana Recarte-Pacheco from Woodbury, MN (Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, Shattuck-St. Mary). In addition defender Lindsey Birch was a late scratch due to leg injury. Melanie Ladue (not listed in graphic above) started at fullback.
While fullback Kristen Ladue had some nice technical ability to get out off some tough situations, it was center back Madison Salas that was defensively impressive with clearances and toe pokes.
“[Madison Salas] is the Bulldog in our backline. I’m sure you saw. She leads through her actions as much as her voice. She’s a commanding presence in the locker room as well. It’s nice to have somebody that’s as experienced as she is, keeping some of the younger girls’ heads level, shouting out directions like having almost a coach on the field.”-Rochester assistant coach Eric Feil
2023 Aurora’s cooking style seems similar to 2022 Aurora: high heat press, simmer multiple ingredients, patient defense-reduction of possession passes, quick-fire kebob-piercing shots. A big difference this season is the depth of flavor — or players. Is 17 returning players and 10 new players the perfect recipe? Time will tell, but Aurora is cooking now with more potent ingredients, almost too many spicy peppers for this writer to handle.
“I think it’s returning players, new players. It doesn’t matter. I think we just played with the ruthlessness and clinical-ness, in the first half especially. And we needed to create all those chances no matter who was involved.”Aurora Attacking Midfielder Cat Rapp, post-game press conference
2023 Rochester FC women are new to the USL W. They wanted to play out the back with shorter passes, which was a recipe for disaster. Speed mismatches and experience differences were magnified under Aurora’s aggressive press. When Rochester did get the ball forward to Abbie Rutledge or Jayda Brown, they looked short a few ingredients.
Bowl of Nuts
Within the first two minutes, Aurora had two appetizing attacks. Both combined returning players and Aurora “rookies.” DM Addy Weichers (née Symmonds) creates a turnover that launches a Marriah Nguyen and Maya Hansen attack down the left that almost results in newcomer Sophie French scoring. Less than a minute later, Makenzie Langdok sends a free kick that French heads back to Hannah Adler who shoots high. “Rookies” is in quotes because French (Portland Thorns) and Adler (Racing Louisville) both have NWSL experience. These early attacks are salty and flavorful, but lack the extra ingredients to make a full course. Aurora were just snacking on something small.
The Relish Dish
In the 6′ Weichers plays the ball over to LFB Langdok, who sends the ball far side. French boxes out her defender and maybe gets a head on the ball, but Cat Rapp scores with a bounce shot off the turf. It’s a salty and sour like a dish of Kalamata olives, but it’s what Aurora craves to open their palette.
All 11 starters line up, lock arms, and take bow to mark the first Aurora goal celey of the season and to relish the moment.
Teppanyaki Fried Rice
Sometimes, all the ingredients come together with some flair like the chef catching an egg with a spatula, juggling salt shakers, and adding some vegetables. Weichers, Fauknor, Hansen, Nguyen, and Adler all combine with secret ingredient: Cat Rapp with the deceptive split-step dummy.
Steak and Asparagus
Sometimes, just a few ingredients combine to make a big impact. In the 35′ Aurora delivered their main course: French to Hansen with a pivot and a defense-splitting through ball to Cat Rapp. Rapp receives the ball on a slight diagonal run and delivers a meaty finish.
Less than a minute later, Hansen passes to Adler who draws Rochester defenders left with a meandering ankle-braking dribble only to pass back to Hansen. The prolific returning attacker does the tap-tap-tap right and pull back and then launches a left-foot spear that pierces low to the far back corner.
The first half would end 4-0 in favor the home side. On the quick start, coach Nicole Lukic said, “It was fun and I think it helped us settle down a little bit. But to be honest, I think at times we were still pretty choppy and sloppy throughout the night. And the ball was out of bounds a lot, and I think the wind certainly added to that. So, I don’t even think we were at our best today, but to be able to finish when you’re not at your best is nice to see.”
Whether it’s food allergies, better health, or a need for variety, a kitchen will be asked to make some substitutions.
“They just kept coming at us, didn’t stop — and we had to adjust a little bit in the midfield. We saw some [new] players, and got some fresh legs. So, I really think that’s what helped us stop their offense in the second half a bit more.”Rochester FC center back Madison Salas
RFB Lydia Ruppert (Washburn HS) for Abby Ostrem
RW Jelena Zbilijic (Minnetonka HS) for Sophia French
LW Vienna Behnke for Nguyen
GK Emma Knack (St. Francis HS) for Coco Alcalde de Blas
LFB Rebecca Cook (Rochester Lourdes HS) for Kristen Ladue
RFB Ava Adams for Melanie Ladue
Rochester assistant coach Eric Feil on the goalkeeper switch for the second half: “The goalkeeper change was purely for experience at this point. We love everything that Coco does. She was completely hung out to dry on most of those goals, not her fault, nothing she can do. And she accepted the fact that sometimes when you change a goalkeeper out, it kind of refreshes your team, and they come into it like it’s a new game.”
DM Morgan Stone for Addy Weichers
AM Rami Rapp for Hannah Adler
S Kristelle Yewah for Maya Hansen
Jennifer Reyna-Hernandez (Rochester Mayo HS) for Eduarda Queiroz
GK Olivia Graupmann (Minnetonka HS) for Amanda Poorbaugh
Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies
All the subs from your favorite sandwich shop cannot curb Aurora’s hunger for goals. Eventually, it’s time for some dessert, and newcomer Kennedy Faulknor served up a treat.
In the 82′ Olivia Graupmann comes way out to act as a fifth back and passes to Kennedy Faulknor. Faulknor launches a dough-punch of a deep ball into the box. Kristelle Yewah with some peanut butter power appears to chest the ball down past GK Emma Knack. Jelena Zbilic outruns 2 defenders to add the chocolate kiss atop the Peanut Butter Kiss cookie. It’s not fancy, but it makes 5 goals in a season opener, which for Aurora and their fans, tastes sweet.
Nicole Lukic on Faulknor’s contribution: “Incredible ball, well-weighted, left footed, just floated right into Kristelle’s feet.”
Your Own Worst Food Critic
In the post-game press conference, Nicole Lukic reviewed her chefs and how closely they followed the recipe: “We’ve been working on two main topics which is pressing in the final third and building through the central channel. And I think we did that a lot in the first half [in the] central channel, and a lot of our goals came from that. I think the wind made it difficult at times, and we started serving balls into the air more than we probably should have. But I think it was a great game overall and something for us to build and go forth.”
We Don’t Cook for the Critics. We Cook for the People.
“Somebody asked me if I was nervous, and no, I just [remember] pure excitement playing last year. The fans are such a huge part of why we do so well and why other players want to come here, because the experience and atmosphere just helps push us in bad moments, good moments — doesn’t matter. And I think it’s great that the women’s sports are being looked at like this, and hopefully other teams across the country can get a following like this.”Attacking Midfielder and Star of the Game Cat Rapp
When I arrived at the press box, it was nice to see some familiar touches. Ruth from Best Event Services was keeping an eye on the elevator. Coffee, sandwiches, chips, and cookies were available. However, something new made me shed a tear or five. Grant Wahl supported women’s soccer everywhere, including buying a share as an Aurora community owner.
Other Restaurant Battles from the Heartland
Also this Wednesday, Chicago City SC had their season opener away at crosstown rival Chicago Dutch Lions. While the Dutch Lions won their opener 2-1 on Sunday against RKC Third Coast, the Dutch Lions lose their 2nd match of the season. Chicago City’s Ava Pattison scores the only goal of the game.
This Saturday, May 27 will see Chicago City host RKC, Baravian United SC welcome Green Bay Glory, and the Dutch Lions host Minnesota Aurora.
Rochester FC gets a full week’s rest and will play Green Bay Glory next Wednesday, May 31. Speaking of next Wednesday, that’s Aurora’s next home game against RKC.
First Meal of Many
Wednesday was an evening of firsts: the first USLW match with two Minnesota teams, Rochester FC’s first away game, Minnesota Aurora FC’s first game of 2023, and Aurora’s first margin of victory of five goals or more in their short club history. Who will score their next goal? Whoever it is, Sota Soccer will be there either literally or via the magic of the internet. Come and join the feast.