Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Hannah Adler celebrates one of her three goals on Wednesday – courtesy of Aurora

NOTICE: Due to poor air quality, tonight’s June 14 game is moving to an indoor location, closed to press and fans.

Minnesota Aurora has had a Chicago-filled five days. On Wednesday, June 7, Aurora hosted the Chicago Dutch Lions at TCO Stadium. On Saturday, the team had a chance to take in a Chicago Red Stars game in Bridgeview, IL. Finally, on Sunday, Aurora played Chicago City, the only other unbeaten team in the USL W Heartland Division.

Act I – Aurora versus Chicago Dutch Lions

On Wednesday, June 7, the 4874 fans who came out to TCO Stadium were treated to cooler weather, but that didn’t cool down Minnesota Aurora’s goal scoring. A Hannah Adler hat trick, a Mariah Nguyen brace, and a Tianna Harris header give Aurora a 6-1 win.

June 7 also marks 65 years since the birth of Prince Rogers Nelson, the musician who initially played with the band 94 East and graduated from Minneapolis’ Central High School. Supporters group Minnesota Revontulet came up with a “Purple Rain” chant: “Blue and Green, Blue and Green / We just want to see you win for the Blue and Green.”

“Just As Long As We’re Together” – Starting XI

After a much-rotated squad in 0-1 victory at Rochester Sunday, head coach Nicole Lukic returns to a more familiar starting lineup, which includes Maya Hansen at striker and Mariah Nguyen at left wing in the 2023 default 4-1-4-1 formation. Center back Kelsey Kafusi makes her second straight start after healing from injury. Goalkeeper Olivia Graupmann started in net last game, but Amanda Poorbaugh returns to her starting job in the net.

For Chicago Dutch Lions, the coaches on the sideline continues to rotate. When Aurora last played the Dutch Lions, founder and former men’s coach Nikhil Erlebach was on the sideline with General Manager Heather Bickerton. On Wednesday at TCO Stadium, Heather Bickerton was solely in charge.

Bickerton chose to start similar players as last time these two teams faced with notable additions of Adrianna Berruti at left wing and starting dynamic attacker Katherine Stephens. Goalkeeper Caitlin Richards did not make the trip to Eagan. GK Emma Guthrie started in her place. Most impressively, defensive midfielder Cate Downs dropped back as dual central center back and defensive mid in a 3-4-3 that defended in a 5-4-1 block.

“We stepped Kate into the center back role. She’s normally a defensive center mid. So, she knows how to play, and she she was a beast today. She definitely helped us back there.”

Heather Bickerton – Chicago Dutch Lions general manager and interim coach

Along with other center backs Savannah Larsen and Victoria Adams, Cate Downs commanded a back line that often included wingbacks Christine Erdman and Emma Irle.

“Joy in Repetition” – Hannah Adler’s Two Penalty Kicks

Early in the game, a Dutch Lion defender steps in front of Maya Hansen with ball. The defender trips Hansen and did not get ball. Hanna Adler buries the penalty.

Around the 42′ Maya Hansen has the ball again. The Lions try their off-side trap, but Hansen slips the ball to Hannah Adler. The former Danish Kvindeligaen attacker has clear sailing toward the net until tropical storm Emma Guthrie flies off her line to close the angle. Goalkeeper Guthrie tries a gusty two-foot tackle. Adler is shipwrecked in the box. Guthrie gets a yellow card, and Adler gets another penalty kick. “X” marks the spot, and Adler buries the treasure chest in the same spot as her first penalty.

Dutch Lions: “We Can Funk”

The roughly 40 minutes between PKs, Aurora dominates possession while the Dutch Lions looked to counter. Aurora played both a high press and a high back line trying to catch Stephens or Stiffler offside. Credit the Dutch Lions’ coaches and players for giving Aurora multiple formations in defense. Lions started in a 3-4-3 attack and 5-4-1 defense but then switched to a 4-2-3-1 in the first half.

“To Dutch Lions’ credit, they played a really low block on us at times, and they kept changing their formation. So I think it caused us problems to continue to reevaluate what the opponent was doing.”

Nicole Lukic – Aurora head coach

For much of the first half, Dutch Lions marked tight and often double-teamed the Aurora player with ball. This gave Aurora players less time and space than they are used to having.

During the game, color commentator Dani Foxhoven noted, “This game has been a lot more in the air than I think Minnesota Aurora is typically comfortable with as well. The ball has been bouncing a lot. It’s been hard for them to bring it down, get control of the ball.” Foxhoven later added, “Typically, Minnesota Aurora is a little bit more clinical with their passing: balls nice [and] clean on the ground; their touches are close to their feet. And today [the ball] seems to be popping up a little bit more, bouncing up hitting them in the thigh, the stomach.”

“Glam Slam” – Hannah Hat Trick

Less than three minutes after the second PK, Aurora’s attack seems to transcend the physical. Right wing Arianna Del Moral squares a ball near the top of the box to Maya Hansen. Hansen nutmegs a Lion to Cat Rapp who offloads to Adler. Adler gets her “Hannah Hat Trick” with a “Glam Slam, thank U ma-am” tap-in.

“Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”

In first-half stoppage time, the Dutch Lions would get two good chances. Attacker Anna Stiffler gets a shoulder bump from Kelsey Kaufusi on the right side just outside the box. To Kaufusi’s credit, she helped head away the free kick. Cate Downs would also make impressive diagonal dribble and feed Katherine Stephens. Stephens does not get enough power on the shot, and Amanda Poorbaugh makes the save for Aurora.

In the 54′ Kaufusi shoulder checks Stiffler down in the box, but Stiffler is just a hair offside.  Dani Foxhoven pointed out, “Had that not been offside, would have been a foul, maybe even a PK. Minnesota Aurora I think getting really lucky there, holding a high line.” Soon after, defensive mid Morgan Stone would be subbed on for Kaufusi, which moved Addy Weichers back to center back.

“Let’s Go Crazy” – Dynamic Dribbles

In the 61′ Katherine Stephens for the Lions outlets to substitute Kayla Shebar. With Aurora’s Stone and Ostrem both over-committing, Shebar makes a dynamic diagonal dribble but is halted by center back Tiana Harris with help from Weichers.

One minute later, Weichers passes up to left wing Mariah Nguyen. Nguyen turns up field and splits two Lions with a diagonal run of her own. A third Lion over-committs, and Nguyen heads towards subbed GK Molly Fischer. Despite having Rami Rapp on her right and Kristelle Yewah on her left, Nguyen decides to take on the last defender on her own with a heavy touch past Downs and running onto the ball. Her shallow angle shot nutmegs Fischer, but Nguyen also had Yewah and with space and better angle behind her and Rami Rapp open on the far post. This goal made #6 on ESPN’s Sports Center’s Top 10.

“Insatiable” – MOAR Aurora Goals

In the 70′ Tianna Harris scores a header off a Weichers corner kick extending her scoring streak to three games.

I caught Addy Weichers post game she explained Tianna Harris’ goal this way: “I trust her to get to the ball. And so, I just put it in a spot that’s hopefully good enough for [Tianna Harris], and she usually finds the ball. So it’s pretty easy on my part. She makes me look good. She does all the work.”

In the 89′ Cat Rapp played the ball to Nguyen who scored her second of the evening.

“Free” – Kate Nardulli Free Kick

In between the last two goals, the Lions would break a USL W record: Aurora went 433 minutes to start a season without allowing a goal. Dutch Lions midfielder Katelyn Nardulli intercepts a pass, dribbles center and shoots. The ball deflects off a jumping turning Weichers. Since the ball hit her arm, the referee calls “handball” just outside the 18-yard box.

Nardulli takes the free kick from 22 yards out. The ball is “Free 2 go most anywhere, anytime” and curls over the 4-player wall to upper left corner. The Lions get one back.

“We started to build some plays together in the second half, and a goal was good to come out of this because I think the girls deserved it. And we had a couple of chances, and I’m glad that one of them went in the back of the net.”

Heather Bickerton – Chicago Dutch Lions general manager and interim coach

“Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” or Goals Aren’t Everything

Despite Aurora winning 6-1, head coach Lukic was not happy. In the post game press conference, Lukic said, “Wild to say that not super happy with how we played but there’s something to be said about being able to score six goals when you’re not playing their best.” She later commented, “But overall disappointed with our performance today, just didn’t think we were very technically clean. We weren’t moving as a unit, just poor attacking decisions and use of space.”

When I asked to clarify what she meant by “not technically clean,” Nicole expounded further:

“Definitely some over dribbling in wide spaces and just passes that were played to the back foot that should have been played to the front foot, like little details that … against a higher-level, more tuned-in opponent we wouldn’t be able to get away with.”

Nicole Lukic – Aurora head coach

Coach knows that “Just when u think u’ve got more than enough /
That’s when it all up and flies away.”

Hannah Adler celebrates one of her three goals Wednesday night. – courtesy of Aurora

Star of the Game Hannah Adler echoed Lukic with a different tone: “I think sometimes that’s just the way that soccer goes. I think that you can have an amazing game and score zero goals, or you can have a game where you don’t play your best soccer and score six goals. So, I think for us to have scored six goals on a day where it wasn’t probably our best soccer — and we haven’t even reached our full potential yet — is, you know, obviously a really good place to be in. But, I think that we do have a lot to work on if we want to be the best.”

Opposing coach Heather Bickerton summarized playing against Aurora this way: “There’s this a lot of movement off the ball, a lot of quick transitions. And you know, you have to be ‘on’ at all times playing against Minnesota. When that attention drops, that’s when they get in behind and get a goal and that’s clearly what happened.”

Aurora players, coaches, and bus driver Stephen at SeatGeek Stadium for a Chicago Red Stars game – courtesy of Aurora

Act II – Aurora visits Chicago Red Stars

On Saturday, June 10, Aurora went to Chicago a day early to take in the Chicago Red Stars as they hosted the North Carolina Courage. They were a part of 3,541 in attendance at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, IL.

I had the chance to ask Aurora president Andrea Yoch about how that Red Stars connection happened. She replied, “I have a friend that used to work for the Red Stars. So she hooked us up with them, and they said they’d be happy to host us. And the t-shirt tosss happened organically at the stadium. Someone came and asked them to do it. So that wasn’t preplanned, but it looks like they had a great time.”

Chicago Red Stars would lose 0-5 to the North Carolina Courage. Brazilian striker Kerolin scored a hat trick as she leads the NWSL with 7 goals this season.

Act III – Chicago City SC versus Aurora

On Sunday, June 11, Minnesota Aurora (5 W, 0 L, 0 D) got to play in the city of Chicago at Lions of Hope Sports Complex, home of the Chicago Lions Rugby Football Club. Their opponent was the only other Heartland Division unbeaten team: Chicago City SC (4 W, 0 L, 1 D). The weather was windy and rainy.

Typically, Rugby Union pitches are 115-157 yards long by 74-77 yards wide. Coach Lukic talked post game about how this smaller pitch and weather affected their strategy and tactics.

“Yeah, we talked about it before we came here. We knew the pitch was gonna be super small today. It was about 98 by 67, so really tight. But I think in some moments, that played to our favor with our press and the way we like to play compact. When we lose the ball, we’re able to regain it a lot of times before they could establish three or four passes. And then it just really forced us to, you know, maximize space and win it back in spaces where we wanted to. [We] focus on winning it a little bit higher up the field and not building out of the back as much as we normally do. So, I thought we had good success with our game plan that we came in with and some really good combinations in the first half when we had the wind with us. And then, just you know, there is something to be said about finishing out again when elements are against you.”

Nicole Lukic – Aurora head coach

“New Power Generation” – Starting XI

For most of 2023, Minnesota Aurora have played in a 4-1-4-1. On Sunday, Coach Lukic decides to to go 3-2-4-1. This is the first time this season that both Weichers and Stone, the dual pivot from 2022, start in the center midfield together. Makenzie Langdok moves up from fullback to right wing. However, if you move her to the back line, it looks like the 2022 Aurora 4-2-3-1. With Langdok in the midfield, Kelsey Kaufusi wears the captains armband for Aurora.

Coach Lekeisha Gumbs starts Chicago City SC in a 4-3-3. Their center forward Sophia Jamie has four goals on the year. Molly Vapensky a junior Loyola Academy at starts at goalkeeper. Although still high school, Vapensky has played with the U.S. U-15 team and won the 2022 CONCACAF U-15 Championship. RFB Fernanda Soto is from Illinois but plays at NC State. She stood out on both sides of the ball.

“New Position” – Langdok on the Rock

Both teams turn over the ball in the first few minutes as they were getting used to the windy and wet conditions. Eventually, Aurora starts to dominate the possession. Langdok looks dangerous at right wing.

In the 19′ Chicago City CB Eva Pattison hounds Cat Rapp and eventually trips her. A minute later LB Abby Ostrem takes the free kick. After the first header is blocked, Makenzie Langdok heads in the goal.

“Just As Long As We’re Together” – Mariah and Maya

Less than a minute later, Mariah Nguyen and Maya Hansen combine with some nice footwork to give Aurora their second goal.

“Assisting Maya is probably my favorite thing, literally my favorite thing ever — yeah, assisting maya all day.”

Mariah Nguyen after training June 2 on whether she likes scoring or assisting better.

Based on this give-go goal, Maya feels the same way.

“The Cross” – Soto to Jamie

In the 34′ Chicago City respond with a goal off a throw in. RFB Fernanda Soto sends in cross. Sophia Jamie scores her 5th goal of the season.

“Take Me With You” – Cat Rapp to Adler again

Toward the end of the first half, Cat Rapp feeds Hannah Adler for the second time in two games. With the goal, Adler ties Hansen for six goals in 2023.

Despite substitutions by both teams and chances for both teams, the game ends 3-1. All three Chicago teams lose, the two USL W ones by Aurora’s feet. What a five days!

Flashback – “Ol’ Skool Company”

On June 13, 2021, Minnesota WoSo was officially awarded a USL W League franchise. The founders and board members did a lot and continue to make this team happen.

Reviews Are In – “All The Critics Love U In New York” or Tampa

The first USL W Power Rankings (Top 15 teams) came out before Aurora had played a single game. Since then Aurora have been listed 6th and 3rd. Half-way through the season at 6-0-0, they are now ranked 2nd behind San Francisco Glens SC. The Top Six are all undefeated with five of the top six with all wins and no losses nor draws.

Coming Soon to a TCO Near You – “The Future”

Aurora have a “double home game” this week as they host two teams they have yet to face this year. Wednesday, June 14 they host Green Bay Glory and Saturday, June 17 against Bavarian United SC. Both games are at TCO Stadium at 7 p.m.

Tonight, the supporters group MN Revontulet is asking you to wear teal.

CORRECTION: Due to poor air quality, tonight’s June 14 game is moving to an indoor location, closed to press and fans.

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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