Mon. Dec 4th, 2023

Mariah Nguyen jumps up to celebrate her goal as the fans on the west grassy incline cheer. Eli Rapp, Hannah Adler, and Cat Rapp raise the arms in joy. – Courtsey of Aurora

On Wednesday, Minnesota Aurora scored their fastest goal in history at 33 seconds after kickoff. On Saturday, Bavarians United SC (Glendale, WI) scored the fastest goal against Aurora. Despite a diminutive deficit, Aurora diversify their defense and dictate distribution to dominate. A sold out crowd of 6,423 fans showed up at TCO Stadium.

“Proud” – Pride Night at TCO Stadium

TCO Stadium at field level, taken toward the NW corner, SE corner flag in rainbow colors – Courtesy of Aurora

June is Pride month, and last Saturday was Aurora’s Pride Night home game. The corner flags were rainbow flags. Aurora’s warm up t-shirts had letters in pink and blue: “Everyone Deserves a Home.” One of Aurora’s Pride partners is Avenues for Youth, who provide safe shelter and housing options for homeless youth in Hennepin County. As homelessness intersects with other issues like inequality, Avenues for Youth has programs that respond to LGBTQI+ youth homelessness.

Aurora’s pregame hype circle: Poorbaugh in GK orange other starters in Aurora teal kits having removed their t-shirts. All other coaches and players wearing the “Everyone Deserves A Home” t-shirt. – Courtesy of Aurora

As fans entered the stadium, the video board displayed “PRIDE NIGHT” with “Welcome To Our Pride Night Partners” underneath:

Each of these non-profit organizations play a different role in helping the LGBTQI+ community.

“Come On” – Starting XIs

For the third consecutive game, Aurora start in the 3-6-1 (3-2-4-1). With Makenzie Langdok getting the night off, Eli Rapp slides into the RW role. Eli Rapp’s versatility as a wing or fullback makes Eli a natural like-for-like replacement for Langdok.

The lineup diagram is correct except reverse the order of the midfield 4. Zuchowoski was on the left, then Tuma, Block, and Camapana on the right – Courtesy of Equal Time Soccer

Bavarian United start in a 4-4-2. Minneapolis South High School alumnus Chloe Olson starts in net. The Bavarian midfielders are technically strong on the ball with great field vision, especially Hailey Block and Elena Zuchowoski. Also starting for Bavarian United are forwards Cate Cullison and Haley Johnson.

“[Block and Zuchowoski] are so fun to watch. I’ve really enjoyed training them. They kind of give us that freedom, too because they’re so good at finding the ball. They’re so good at sitting in pockets to disrupt play. They’re so good at inviting passes and to pick them off.”

Mary Whisler – Bavarian United head coach

“The First”

Early in the game Abby Ostrem attempts to clear the ball, but it hits off pressing midfielder Alex Campana. The ball falls to forward Cate Cullison whose shot splits Harris and Ostrem. Aurora GK Amanda Poorbaugh makes a diving right-glove save that pushes the ball off the far left post. The other Bavarian forward Haley Johnson is there to score her third goal of the season.

“It was really great just to … put the crowd to a little bit of a silence. We knew we had to come out strong, and just next time we’ll try to just keep going at it.”

Haley Block – Bavarian United midfielder

For the first time since the 2022 USL W quarterfinals, Aurora allows the first goal of the game. For the first time in 2023, Aurora are losing.

On the broadcast analyst Dani Foxhoven remarked, “Bavarians [are] just so comfortable on the ball right now. They’re not in any sort of rush. They are going forward to their attacking players, dropping the ball back, going all the way back to their back line if needed and still keeping possession, [which] shows a lot of comfort that they have in this environment. I am very impressed with them so far this game.”

Later in the game, off a Johnson throw-in Zuchowoski hits a diagonal ball to Cate Cullison with a hard one-touch shot misses wide. Ostrem marks Culison, and the ball deflects out for a corner.

Post game, Bavarian United head coach Mary Whisler had this to say: “We dominate a lot of possession in games. We had moments of it here where I think you could see that. But to be fair, when Cate [Cullison] and Haley Johnson have some space to play and run it people, they’re so fun to watch. We have a lot of playmakers: Elena Zuckowoski, Alex [Campana]…. So when they find that space, and they get that momentum, it’s really fun.”

“Shock To Your System” – Players Meeting

After the game, I asked fullback Abby Ostrem what happened after Bavarians scored. “It was actually our goalkeeper Amanda Poorbaugh that brought us all together.” She summarized the huddle, “At that moment we held it up and talked about deciding: this moment is when we decide what team we are — and came back settled into our game plan.”

“Call It Off” – Stone Cold Morgan versus Elena Zuchowoski

In the 14th minute, Morgan Stone was whistled for a foul on a late body check on Bavarian midfielder Elena Zuchowoski. Later around the 23rd minute, Stone received a yellow card for a late slide tackle on Zuchowoski. To Stone’s credit [What?!] the next time Zuchowoski tried to dribble by her, Stone employed a minimal toe-poke, no body contact necessary.

“The Con” – Stealing Goals, Formation Switch, and Breaking Legs

After 25+ minutes of Bavarian United dominating possession with better attacking chances and better defensive shape, Aurora find the tying goal. Off a recycled corner kick and several heads, Maya Hansen slots an equalizer. Wait a minute, it is Cat Rapp with the final touch. Rapp cat burglars the goal from Hansen, which has them tied with six goals each in 2023.

Around the 30th minute, Aurora then adjust their formation from 3-6-1 to a 4-2-3-1. Eli Rapp drops to right fullback; Maya Hansen slides to right wing, and Cat Rapp advances from midfield to striker.

Aurora head coach Nicole Lukic on the formation change: “We’re talking about right away after we got scored on, just kind of watching that three back. And the decision was ultimately made just to go back to a four back because it gave us more confidence. We felt this made us feel a little bit more protected whether we needed that or not. Whether it was false confidence or real confidence, I’m not sure, but it definitely worked. And it provided us another number in the wide spaces, which is where we kept finding the ball without a lot of support and ability to move forward. So overall, it really helped us just settle down and then get back into ourselves.”

Minutes later, Aurora get the go-ahead goal off a long ball from Ostrem and a nice “feint right, cut inside left” technique from Hansen.

“Everything Is Awesome” – Everything About This Goal Anyway

Right before halftime, Morgan Stone on the right sends in a cross and a prayer. Somehow Mariah Nguyen heads the ball back to Hannah Adler’s feet who finishes to give Aurora a 3-1 lead at the break. Adler now leads the team with 8 goals on the season.

Adler’s first half stoppage-time goal and Aurora’s 30th minute formation change – Courtesy of Equal Time Soccer

In the second half, with Morgan Stone on a yellow, Aurora substitute Sophie French for Stone. French takes the sole striker spot. Cat Rapp moves back to the 10 or central attacking midfielder, which pushes Adler back to center midfield next to Weichers.

“I Bet It Stung” – Collision

In the 53rd minute, Addy Weichers and Madison Tuma collided hard. Tuma needed to be subbed out; Weichers had to leave temporarily and was cleared to play on. Blood was on the turf, which needed to be cleaned. We hope Tuma and Weichers are both okay.

“Walking with a Ghost” – Ninja Mariah Nguyen

Hansen stays at right wing and multiple times would demonstrate her attacking versatility out wide. Also, Mariah Nguyen would sneak open on the back side numerous times. In the 64th minute, Eli Rapp and Hansen have a give-and-go. Rapp gets the ball back and creates space with an outside spin to hit Nguyen on a cross cleaner than in any church on Sunday. Nguyen finishes for her first goal of the night and fifth of 2023.

“Back in Your Head” – Harris Header Again

In the 76th minute, Addy Weichers takes a corner kick from the right side. For the fourth time this season, she finds center back Tianna Harris for a goal. Harris gets her fourth goal and Weichers her fourth assist of the season. Three out of the four have been Harris headers.

“I love defending but attacking: that’s my thing. So when I get the chance in the box — and honestly great service and providing me and Addy have kind of developed a little bit of a bond — and she basically just puts it right on my head. I don’t have to do too much; she’s amazing.”

Tianna Harris – Aurora center back
Tianna Harris animated about the come back win – with Bridget McDowell and Matt Privratsky – Courtesy of Matthew Johnson

After 28 minutes of being down 0-1 at home and looking the worse team, Aurora comes back with force to win 5-1. While the formation change and substitutes all helped, key was GK Amanda Poorbaugh gathering the players after allowing that first goal.

After the game, the first words from coach Nicole Lukic were, “Today’s game gave us some adversity and … something else to look at. It made us fight a little bit more than we’ve seen in the past. So obviously, not the best way to start a game to give up a goal and let them kind of run through you. And then I thought we abandoned our game plan a little bit there: 25 minutes that rattled us a little bit more than we would have liked. But honestly, it was good for us to have to handle some adversity and come back fighting so good win a different win than what we’ve seen in the past.”

“I Hear Noises” – Revontulet

Revontulet supporters group in Section 121 at TCO Stadium stand with Aurora pride scarves and their own Pride tifo: “Cherished, Supported, Protected, Valued, Celebrated, Advocated For.” – Courtesy of Aurora

When I first asked Bavarian midfielder Haley Block what she saw out there, her first response was not about the play on the field: “First, a lot of fans for Aurora, so it was just great to like be out there and play in that environment. We’re kind of short for our bench this trip. I just saw it’s like try to connect and play our game as much as possible and try to stick together defensively and try to combat their offense.”

“Listen, I say it and I will literally die by this: Minnesota Aurora fans are the best, like we have the best fans. The fact that we can pack out a stadium just being women here on Pride Night celebrating people loving everybody, it just shows how big this community is and how amazing Aurora is and just the impact that this has on the community. I am so happy to be a part of it.”

Tianna Harris – Aurora center back after the game
Aurora COO Jessica Poole (center) explained she knows the Whislers from when she was the Deputy Athletic Director at Chicago State University. Bavarian assistant coach Aulani (left) coaches soccer at Chicago State, while Bavarian head coach Mary (right) coaches at Purdue Northwest in nearby, Hammond, IN. – Courtesy of Matthew Johnson

“We Didn’t Do It” – Other USL W Results

On Thursday, June 15, Valley Division leader Indy Eleven (Aurora’s last year QF foe) were upset at home 0-2 by last-place St. Charles FC. On Sunday, June 18, McLean Soccer (Aurora’s last year SF foe) beat Virginia Marauders FC 11-0, to tie the largest goal differential of 2023 set by Tampa Bay United last week.

Within the Heartland Division, June 18 also marks the day for Rochester FC’s first USL W win. They went to Chicago City SC and won 0-1 away off an early goal by Ana Recarte-Pacheco.

“Take Me Anywhere” – even if it’s Wisconsin

Today, Aurora head east for the Milwaukee two step. RKC Third Coast will host Aurora on Wednesday, 7 p.m. at Pritchard Park in Racine, WI. Since RKC played in Minnesota, they have earned two wins to their credit: away at Green Bay Glory and away at Rochester FC.

On Saturday, June 24, Aurora will head to Bavarian Soccer Park in Glendale, WI to play at 5 p.m.

For June 29, Aurora head to northern part of eastern Wisconsin to take on Green Bay Glory at 6 p.m.

The last Aurora regular season game is Sat. July 1 at 4 p.m. against Chicago City. If bus driver Stephen sings one line from Tegan and Sara: “Yes I’ll come get you, and I will bring you home.”

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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