Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Aurora Starting XI down in Aurora, IL – courtesy of Minnesota Aurora FC

Saturday evening, the Chicago Dutch Lions hosted their third consecutive home game. After winning their home opener 2-1 against RKC Third Coast, the Lions lost the Chicago Derby 0-1` to Chicago City.

Minnesota Aurora FC were coming off their own home and season opener. Aurora dominated Rochester 5-0 in the USL W’s first US-52 Derby. Aurora continued their dominance in Aurora, IL, beating the Dutch Lions 4-0.

“Under Stars” – Who’s the Home Team?

Last season the Chicago Dutch Lions played in Aurora, IL but at Joe Bean Stadium at Wheaton University. This year they hosted Aurora at Spartan Stadium at Aurora University in Aurora, IL. Aurora away at Aurora University in Aurora will always be an awkward alliteration. The only thing to make this match more Aurora would be if a certain Norwegian synth pop vocalist provided the soundtrack.

Traveling away fan Brian Decker had this to say about stadium attendance: “Somewhere around 150 — Aurora fans were not quite half: 40%, maybe? [There were] lots of parents/families [for both teams]. [For Aurora] the Nguyens, Hansens, Zbilijics, and [a family member of Nicole Lukic were all there].”

Sota Soccer’s partners Equal Time Soccer held a separate Meagh and Brian Decker interview pregame.

“Storm” – Who’s the head coach of Chicago Dutch Lions now?

Last season Aurora beat a defensively tough Dutch Lions team 3-1 at TCO Stadium and 0-3 in Aurora, IL. That defensive toughness started with head coach Christina Murillo. Murillo is now with the Chicago Fire youth academy.

For the Dutch Lions’ USL W side, new head coach Daniel Cross and new assistant coach Jeff Rafter coached the Lions through their first two games. However, on the Chicago Dutch Lions’ stream, an announcer mentioned that Daniel Cross had “mutually parted ways” with the club. and that Chicago Dutch Lions CEO and founder Nikhil Erlebach would fill in as interim coach for this match.

Erlebach grew up in Hamburg, Germany and played in the FC St. Pauli youth academy before playing for Cal Poly. Joining Erlebach on the sidelines would be General Manager Heather Bickerton filling in as Assistant Coach, and the goalkeeper coach Carson Davenport.

When I asked Bickerton about the coaching changes, she replied, “It was simply in the best interests for the club and specifically our players that we parted ways with Head Coach Dan and his assistant Jeff. They did a fantastic job recruiting and setting up the team for this summer in the USL W League, and [we] would like to thank them for the time they put in.”

“A Potion for Love” – Starting XIs

Chicago Dutch Lions FC

Courtesy of the USL W League

For the hosts, CM Katelyn Nardulli and stalwart CB Savannah Larsen are back. Target forward Katherine Stephens, who scored against Aurora last season at TCO Stadium started on the bench. Coach Erlebach continued the Lions’ 4-2-3-1 but with CAM Anna Stiffler (the 10 for the first two games) up top at striker. Nardulli would fill the CAM roll to start the evening.

Aurora are not the only team that bolstered their roster with international experience. After graduating from Purdue, Lions Captain and CM Maya Lambert traveled to Kazakhstan to play with BIIK Shymkent to compete in the Kazakhstani Championship (top division) and the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

“We are thrilled to be able to sign the majority of our players locally. We want to be a club that local players can aspire to play for during their summer months, and it’s been great to get some returners as well as a good group of incoming players that are headed to college next year.” 

Heather Bickerton, Chicago Dutch Lions General Manager

Minnesota Aurora FC

Courtesy of Minnesota Aurora

Aurora head coach Nicole Lukic chooses the exact same lineup as their season opener with one exception: Wednesday substitute and goal scorer Jelena Zbiljic gets the start at right wing in place of Sophie French.

Aurora continued with their 4-1-4-1 that at times can look like a 2-3-4-1 with the fullbacks helping DM Addy Weichers fill space on offense and defense between the center backs and the front five.

“The Seed” – First 20 Minutes

Both teams were feeling each other out. There were many midfield traps, midfield double teams, and long balls with too much weight. While Aurora had more frequent attacking chances that lead to dangerous balls in the box, the Dutch Lions certainly had close calls that should give Aurora caution.


“Half the World Away” — 20′ Kennedy Faulknor from Weichers

Off an Aurora throw-in deep in the attacking half, the ball eventually gets passed back to RFB Abby Ostrem, who passes the ball to DM Addy Weichers. Weichers offloads to new LCB Kennedy Faulknor who takes 5 yards of space and unleashes a 30-yard Laika that Sputnik rocketed to the upper right corner.

“Running with the Wolves” — 38′ Maya Hansen from Nguyen

From 30-yard rockets to 30-yard runs: around the 38′ GK Amanda Poorbaugh bowls the ball to Faulknor, over to Langdok, who was pressed. Langdok passes back to Faulknor. A nice run back by Cat Rapp unlocks the Lions’ press, and Rapp squares the ball to Langdok, who now has more space than my head during heat exhaustion.

Captain Landok pilots 30 yards from the left sideline to middle and puts a through-ball to Nguyen. Mariah Nguyen’s well-timed on-side run is rewarded with a Lions double-team. Nguyen’s makes a defense-splitting diagonal pass to a supportive Maya Hansen, who one touches a goal with her left.

Equal Time’s Matt Privratsky asked Maya Hansen post game about Aurora starting the game on fire. Maya Hansen had this to say: “There’s a little bit of comfortability and chemistry that is building off of last year. Playing with Cat with Mariah, Jelena: I just love playing with them, and they make my job really easy. So, I think carrying on those relationships from last year has been important, and then just building all those new relationships. I’ve loved playing with Hannah this year. That’s been super fun.”

“A Dangerous Thing” — 43′ Maya Hansen from Cat Rapp

While the last goal had seven Aurora passes, the next goal only needed one. Cat Rapp steals the ball in the attacking third and slides the ball to Hansen for her second goal of the night.

“Giving In to the Love” — 90+’ Mariah Nguyen from Mullaney

In stoppage time after a recycled corner kick, substitute Brenlin Mullaney sent a cross that connected with a jumping Nguyen. If her goal against the Dutch Lions last season was a Ninja kick, this was the Ninja touch of death. One does not need power when one knows where to press.

“Exist for Love” — Using ALL the Subs

“Yeah, we’re really excited the group is melding together. We’ve been working a lot on building through the central channel, connection on building out of the back, and it’s fun to see those things piecing together. We also made a lot of changes of personnel in the second half. And to see that group sort of pick up where the other group left off, respond to the changes the opponent made was really exciting.”

Jen Larrick – Aurora assistant coach

Once again, Aurora used all of their substitute players. To start the second half, AM Rami Rapp came in for Cat Rapp. LFB Eli Rapp came in for Langdok. Morgan CM Stone subbed for LCB Kennedy Faulnor.

Rami Rapp had this to say about what she does while on the bench: “My strategy is to watch the other team mostly to see, you know, what are they doing. Are they high pressing? Are they sitting low? What does their center mid do? Are they right or a dominant left? Just more the other team rather than my team.”

In the 59′ forward Brenlin Mullaney made her first Aurora appearance up top, coming in for Hansen. Winger Arianna Del Moral subbed for Zbiljic, and defender Kylie Olsen subbed for Ostrem.

Finally, in the 70′ GK Olivia Graupmann came into the game for the second time this season. In both games, she has continued Amanda Poorbaugh’s clean sheet while the players in front of her have scored a late goal.

Courtesy of the USL W League

“Into the Unknown” — What’s Next

Today, 7 p.m. at TCO Stadium, Aurora host RKC Third Coast from Racine-Kenosha, WI. RKC have lost all three of their Heartland Division games including a recent 7-0 loss at Chicago City. All three have been away from home.

Minnesota comes in hot and not just the 84 °F at kick off. Aurora have nine goals in two games. RKC have scored one goal but allowed 13 goals in three games. Who will score today? Come and find out.

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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