Starting XI photo for Aurora vs RKC Third Coast – courtesy of Minnesota Aurora FC
Wednesday, May 31 was an evening of contrasts. Minnesota Aurora FC are in their second year and made it to the USL W finals last year. RKC Third Coast (Racine-Kenosha County) are in their first year.
In the 2023 garden of the USL W, large goal differentials are in season. In May, United PDX beat PDX FC 10-1, and 2 days later Christos FC beat Patuxent 0-9. Aurora’s 10-0 goal feast sets a 2023 USL W record for largest goal margin.
“I’ve noticed a lot of the new players integrating really well with this team. I think that our 17-strong base coming back was a huge thing and gave us a lot of leverage over other teams, who are starting fresh.”Mariah Nguyen, Aurora left wing
Both teams have a mix of collegiate players from different divisions. However, Aurora have several players with former international and professional experience; RKC started a high school sophomore. Minnesota Aurora travels via Jefferson Lines buses. RKC drove 360 miles from southern Milwaukee to Eagan in separate cars.
These two teams are in the USL W with different goals [insert pun pause here]. Aurora wants to win another Heartland Division and win the USL W national title. RKC are starting a grassroots women’s team, which like Aurora, have no previous youth academy or previous women’s team on which to build. Aurora are built with Minnesota players, but they also scout with a national and international scale. RKC Third Coast recruit locally and regionally.
Someone in the press box asked me, “Is this going to be a bloodbath?” I needlessly tried to reword it: “I don’t know if I’d say that, but It’s not going to be pretty.” Aurora are hungry. And like me, when they are hungry, they are dangerous.
Apértif: Champagne – a.k.a. Lineups
Like Champagne, both coaches were fluid with their line up choices, varying from previous starting lineups, for different reasons.
Aurora started a heavily rotated squad: RW Arianna Del Moral, CM Rami Rapp, DM Morgan Stone, and FB Eli Rapp all received their first starts in 2023. With CAM Cat Rapp continuing her starting streak, this means the Full Rapp (all three triplets) started for the first time this season.
During the broadcast, color commentator Dani Foxhoven related, “It’s fun to see all three Rapp sisters out there on the field at the same time, each of them bringing their own unique skills.”
I asked Maya Hansen if she ever gets confused which one is passing the ball. She replied, “I don’t know about ‘confused,’ but I definitely stumble upon my words sometimes. I’ll be like, ‘Eli, ball!’ and I’m like, ‘Oh no, that was Cat,’ like in my head. I know which one is which, but there’s three of them.”
Two other Aurora players demonstrated their fluidity. Captain Makenzie Langdok, normally left fullback, moved to the right; Addy Weichers normally the starting DM dropped back to CB, where she plays for Utah State.
The core of S Maya Hansen, LW Mariah Nguyen, CB Tianna Harris and GK Amanda Poorbaugh extended their starting XI streaks to three games.
In addition to Starting XI changes, forward Kaitlyn MacBean and GK Taylor Kane make their first appearances in 2023 on the bench.
For RKC Third Coast, F Alexis Baker, who came off the bench to score RKC’s only goal this season, started in the central midfield. Surprisingly, regular starters MF Brandi Thomsen, MF Addison Spilman, and LFB Adrianna Rodriguez did not make the trip. Head coach John Burke did not have many options as they only brought 2 subs: GK Judith Dobrinska and MF Sophia King.
While in attack RKC typically play a 3-5-2, they were defending in their 4-4-2 for most of the night. The center midfield duo of Brie Klingbeil and Alexis Baker stood out as they adapted to Aurora’s attack and attempted to progress the ball forward. The UW-Milwaukee attacking pair of Haley Johnson and Molly O’Regan had energy and drive but rarely had space to operate.
Like a glass of Champagne, these lineups were just the start and bubbling with potential.
Amuse-Bouches: Tomato-basil Bruschetta
The complementary first bite is small but often shows off the chef’s style. This goal of mostly short passes demonstrates how Aurora like to cook. Small first bites can contain many ingredients like a Tomato-basil Bruschetta. In under three minutes, eight Aurora players make 11 passes that result in the first course.
After Aurora progress the ball out of the back, Morgan Stone sends a long ball from right midfield up to the left wing Mariah Nguyen. Nguyen dribbles and sends a through ball to Cat Rapp. A Cat Rapp one-touch and a Maya Hansen one-touch and the ball is in the back of the net.
“Maya Hansen makes my life so much easier. She’s super sneaky and she loves to play flick-on balls that I’m just always running in behind with. And the Rapps? They are always fun to play with. They connect with each other really well. And I think that our style of play is very similar. So, it’s really easy. It’s like kind of playing with ourselves on there, basically.”Mariah Nguyen, Aurora left wing
Hors d’oeuvres: Smoked Trout Croquettes
Even small hors d’oeuvres can take a while to build the flavors. For their second course, Aurora serve up a 9-pass goal that starts back with GK Amanda Poorbaugh to Tianna Harris. Eventually, Nguyen receives the ball on the left again and squares to Hansen. Hansen sends a diagonal ball to the top of the box. Rami Rapp does not touch the ball but makes a defender-clearing near post run. Her sister Cat Rapp taps the ball for goal #2.
In the first two goals, all eleven players touched the ball or provided clearance runs, and like a smoked trout, something fishy seemed afoot [insert pun pause here].
After the game, head coach Nicole Lukic lauded the variety of goals but also specified, “I’m most excited about tonight the goals that we scored on the ground in the box because that’s something that we’ve been definitely working on with one-touch finishes.”
Cold Starter: Deviled Eggs
In the 19′ Addy Weichers passes to Captain Langdok. Langdok feints left, then bursts straight up the right side. As Arianna Del Moral and Rami Rapp make near post runs, Langdok crosses the ball low to the far post where Maya Hansen is beating her mark inside. This goal was served cold, smooth, and with a little paprika.
Hansen scores her second goal of the game, fifth goal of 2023, and her ninth of her Aurora career. This surpasses Morgan Turner’s 8 goals all-time from last season.
Soup: Creamy Cauliflower Gruyère
Some goals are more about process than many ingredients. In the 31′ Rami Rapp, Ninja Nguyen, and Cat combine to hand Hansen her hat trick. Hansen bursts with speeed past a defender and scores: creamy smooth and just a bit cheesy.
Hot Starter: Warm Pretzel with Sea Salt
A multi-course meal should have courses that vary in temperature, flavor, and texture. Aurora like variety too.
“It’s nice to see a variety of goals and a variety of goal scorers. Just helps us as we continue out through the season to make people feel good that they could be the person for us on any given night.”Nicole Lukic, Aurora head coach
About five minutes later, a Langdok cross is cleared by RKC CB Alexis Betker. The clearance, however, falls to Morgan Stone. Stone passes to Hansen, who passes back to Arianna Del Moral. Del Moral releases a curling carbo-loaded ball that GK Greta Harms or any keeper would struggle to save. Del Moral proves Aurora can score not just on the ground up-close but also in the air from 19 yards out.
Fish Course: Swordfish Shiitake Kebabs
Just before half time, Aurora serves their sixth course. Weichers passes up Langdok who dribbles middle. Langdok passes over to Stone who skewers the ball to the upper right corner of the net from 22 yards out. This goal was umami served with style.
At half time, the score was Aurora 6, RKC 0.
Palate Cleanser: Half Time
To start the second half, Aurora make all seven of their subs at once.
GK Taylor Kane, who was second in GK minutes behind Sarah Fuller in 2022, makes her 2023 debut. FB Kylie Olsen makes her first appearance for Aurora. When I spoke to Olsen Wednesday morning at training, she had this to say about what sets Aurora apart: “I think this is a really upbeat environment. And it’s really intense. I feel like it’s more intense than a lot of environments I’ve been in, which is super good for high level.”
In addition to Olsen, four of the other subs are new to Aurora this year.
“The new players have been extremely easy to integrate into our team from last year. You can really tell that Nicole and the coaching staff played paid attention to who these people are as people not just as players. So, who they are off the field makes it really easy to play with them on the field, and that chemistry kind of just flows super naturally.”Maya Hansen, Aurora forward and all-time leading goal scorer
Salad: Spinach Greens
Sometimes, a chef goes for simple: few ingredients and focus of flavors to contrast the other courses. In the 49′ Aurora’s press provides the greens, and Sophie French adds the citrus vinaigrette. French collects a clearance attempt and keeps it simple: she shoots near post because the near post was open.
Poultry Main Course: Chicken Cordon Bleu
In the 54′ Weichers lashes a corner kick that Tianna Harris redirects to the net with her foot. A couple of other Aurora stars were in the box providing the Emmentaler Swiss cheese and the wine sauce, but Weichers and Harris provide the chicken and ham to make the most of this goal.
Aurora stopped doing coordinated celebrations early in the game, which was respectful. It was fun to see Harris jump up give a “Chef’s Kiss” to the sky after her goal.
Red Meat Main Course: Filet Mignon with Balsamic Glaze
Stone passes to MacBean, who feeds Hannah Adler. Adler shoots the ball off the crossbar and behind the goal line: meaty and saucy.
Cheese Course: Brie
Usually a cheese board has a 3-5 cheeses on it, but sometimes one cheese has a hard outside layer and a creamy inside, and that’s all a chef needs to serve. In the 63′ Kaitlyn MacBean goes insole left, outsole right to get around her defenders and slow rolls an accurate ball through 4 RKC players and 3 Aurora players to the far corner.
Dessert: Pain Au Chocolat
The sweetest moment of the evening was when a bird dropped onto the field and had problems getting off. Game Operations Manager Rachel Pierce collected the bird safely. Just like a chocolate-filled croissant without egg-wash, no birds were harmed.
Coffee and Mignardise
RKC Third Coast’s season will continue. I had the chance to talk with RKC wing Elenore Piette. Piette grew up in Oconomowoc, WI and plays for College of St. Bennedict here in Minnesota. As expected after a loss, some things were bitter like coffee, and yet she found some sweet bite-sized morsels.
MJ: Rough game: what are some things that the coach said pregame or at halftime?
EP: Our coach [John Burke], I give him so much credit. He’s such an amazing coach…. And he was like, “You know what? We might not get the results,” but he kept saying, if we have the class and if we go out with the heart, he’d be so happy with us. And I totally think we did that. And it really motivated all of us to go out and play so hard.
MJ: I noticed mid-first-half your wings switched spots.Was that tactically driven, or was that just the coach saying, “Hey, I want you to see different sides of things”?
EP: I think it was a little bit of both. Being outside [in this heat] is a tough one. So I think also is just kind of saving the legs of the outsides [wings]. I think he thought one side was being more played [by Aurora]. So we kind of just rolled with it.
MJ: Is it exciting being on the ground level of new program?
EP: It’s so exciting. I love it. I think it’s such a great experience kind of to set the framework for it. Obviously, we haven’t been getting the results. But it’s cool to think that [the] next year and the years after us are going to be so much better. And there’s so much room to improve and room to recruit, and I think it’s gonna be awesome.
MJ: What did you think of the atmosphere at TCO [Stadium]?
EP: This was the coolest experience I’ve ever had. It was awesome. It was super cool. The fans were so loud. That was something that I’ve never experienced before. This might be the biggest group of people I have [played in front of]. And yeah, it was awesome. It was incredible.
Today at training, I asked Mariah Nguyen what she’s noticed. The ninja responded, “I’ve noticed a lot of fans coming back to support. The community is always completely behind us which is amazing to see.”
Next on the Menu
Things get easier but not by much as RKC Third Coast head to face third-place Green Bay Glory on Sunday. Also, Sunday, June 4, Aurora heads to Rochester.
Aurora hosted Rochester FC and won the season opener 5-0. Rochester’s home opener was also Wednesday in which they lost 0-2 to Green Bay Glory. Will Rochester’s USL W side score their first goal this Sunday? Will Aurora continue to dominate USL W newcomers? Keep your reservations at Sota Soccer. We’ll treat you to the best Midwest soccer coverage.