Last year, Minnesota Aurora FC went undefeated in the regular season. Their first game was a draw, however, which means their 2022 regular season record was 11-0-1. This season they improve with all 12 matches in the win column.
Their last game of 2023 regular season drew 6,987 fans at TCO Stadium. They played the second best team in the Heartland Division, Chicago City SC for the second time this year. Previously, Aurora beat Chicago City 1-3 on a windy, rainy Chicago day. Saturday, it was a hot and humid day. Nicole Lukic remarked post game that she hoped the fans were staying hydrated as TCO has no shade.
You Can’t Hurry Love – The Supremes before Phil Collins
Saturday was Aurora’s “Amplifying Black Voices” game. The announcer read a club statement on diversity and racial equity. The starting lineup wore Aurora’s “BLM: Amplify Black Voices” scarves. At half time, Aurora cashed in on that Cultivated CBD sponsored Charity Goals donation for every Aurora goal scored. Anthony Newby of Cultivated CBD presented members of Minneapolis-based A Mother’s Love Initiative with check for $5,500. A Mother’s Love Initiative focuses on “Bringing Back the Village” by reducing gun violence through mentorship, de-escalation training, procedural justice, and other initiatives.
Louie Louie, Me Gotta Go – Richard Berry before The Kingsmen
Aurora’s coaching staff stick with the 4-2-3-1 that has been working for them the past few games. Kristelle Yewah gets the start at striker with Maya Hansen on the bench. Jelena Zbiljic gets the start a right wing as Makenzie Langdok is needed at right fullback.
Chicago City starts in a 4-2-3-1 as well. Versatile attacker Sophia Jamie starts at right wing and leads the team in scoring with 6 goals, 1 assist. Striker Xcaret Pineda is not far behind at 4 goals and 1 assist. Center back Yulexi Diaz and center midfielder Captain Kennedy Berschel lead the team in minutes. Carol Soto starts at right fullback.
Police & Thieves – Junior Murvin before The Clash
Both teams emphasized defense in a stingy first half. While Aurora dominated possession, Chicago City defended well. Both teams got feisty physical as the top two teams in any division. At one point, Chicago fullback Carol Soto passed up to wing Sophia Jaime. Jaime and Aurora fullback Abby Ostrem get into an arm-lock wrestling match. Carol Soto later said, “That’s just part of the game.”
I Get Lifted – George McCrae before KC & The Sunshine Band
In the 38th minute, Aurora corner kick specialist Addy Weichers sends a ball from the left corner flag. Tianna Harris and Morgan Stone were both on the back post, but Stone rises up to get the header goal.
The first half would 1-0 in favor of the home side.
Hot Hot Hot – Arrow before Buster Poindexter
“The heat was factor. I was pretty tired out there. Especially in the first half. I think we were a little more frantic … in the first half because we we scored one goal. And we were able to make those adjustments and play really well.”Cat Rapp – Aurora central attacking midfielder
To start the second half, Aurora subs on striker Maya Hansen for Yewah, Sophie French for Zbiljic at right wing, and midfielder Rami Rapp for Weichers.
“I Shot The Sheriff” – Bob Marley before Eric Clapton
In the 58th minute, Mariah Nguyen plays a diagonal ball to Cat Rapp just outside the box. Cat unleashes a devil dog of a shot curling into the net. First-half goalscorer Morgan Stone rewards Cat Rapp with a shoe-shine goal celebration.
Two minutes later, Cat Rapp scores again, this time with the left foot. Cat Rapp, shooting the sheriff and the deputy, gets a brace.
“You Need Love” by Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters before “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
Around the 63rd minute, Aurora subs their remaining three out players. Fullback Kylie Olsen enters for Langdok. Arianna Del Moral subs at left wing for Nguyen. Aurora goal-leader Hannah Adler subs for Cat Rapp. It did not take long for Aurora’s second-half subs to rattle off two goals in less than two minutes.
After a Maya Hansen goal assisted by Sophie French, Del Moral surfs along the left sideline to find Hannah Adler in a similar goal to Cat Rapp’s first goal. This earned Adler #5 on ESPN’s Sports Center Top 10 plays of the day. After being up only 1-0 at half time, Aurora makes some adjustments with substitutions and tactics. By the 65th minute, Aurora leads 5-0. That’s a whole lotta goal love.
Cherry Oh Baby – Eric Donaldson before The Rolling Stones or UB40
After GK Taylor Kane subs on for Poorbaugh, Aurora would get two more goals. Sophie French, quietly or loudly, had two goals and two assists on the day. The first came off a nice square ball from Hannah Adler.
Tainted Love – Gloria Jones before Soft Cell
After the game, I had the chance to talk with Chicago right fullback Carol Soto. When I asked, “What did you see out there today?” she answered, “I saw my team being a little down, losing some confidence after a couple goals in, but we were able to hold each other accountable and try to hold each other’s heads up. And it’s just part of the game nothing more, nothing less you could have done. It is a team sport, not an individual sport so … all we did is play as a team.”
I closed by saying Chicago City made a huge improvement from last year. Soto added, “Last year actually did not play with the team, … but now this is something new to me, something that I enjoy playing, and love the team. [We’ve] got to get ready and prepare ourselves to the playoffs and do our best.”
That’s All Right – Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup before Elvis Presley
In 2023, MN Aurora obviously wanted to improve in all departments. They hired more front office staff as in a Chief Operating Officer and Merchandise Manager. The expanded game day staff with a Sports Information Director. The added more technical staff like a mental skills coach and a someone in charge soccer operations (i.e. business analytics). They returned a core 17 players and brought in new players with international experience for clubs and country.
Everyone I interview at the club stresses community, team work, commication, and being organized. After the game, I asked Cat Rapp about second-half adjustments.
MJ: [Aurora have] had a lot of good second half performances from adjustments. Do those adjustments come from Nicole Lukic? Do they come from other coaches? players?
Cat Rapp: I think they come from everybody. As a team we talk before the coaches even come into the locker room. We are talking about what we think we need to improve and to adjust. And then the coaches will come in. And I don’t even know, sometimes it’ll come from one coach [or] come from another. I think it’s a whole team collective thing, not just one person.
The results? While I cannot report on merchandise sales or soccer analytics, Aurora finish the 2023 regular season with 12 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws. Amanda Poorbaugh gets the most starts at goalkeepr, but all four goalkeepers received minutes and collectively earn 8 clean sheets. They scored 60 goals and only allowed four. All 27 players saw playing time; 15 different players scored goals for Aurora in 2023.
The coaching staff showed new formations this year. Players have played different positions, whether that’s Langdok at wing and fullback, Weichers at center midfield and center back, or Hansen at striker and wing. Two players stand out as Swiss Army Knives: Sophie French and Arianna Del Moral can play anywhere.
“Yeah, that’s something we really focus on is being adaptable: being ready to play different things for the team needs you to do. I thought Sophie did a great job in Green Bay by playing center back and maybe it just gave her a different look at the game. I thought she was more patient and more composed as an outside mid than she’s ever been and really happy for her to score two goals.”Nicole Lukic – Aurora head coach
Surfin’ U.S.A. – Chuck Berry before The Beach Boys
Last year the USL W started with seven divisions and an 8-team playoff format. This year they expanded to the west coast and have ten divisions grouped into four conferences across the U.S.A. The four conferences, each with 2-3 divisions, make a 16-team playoff format a natural fit.
The Midwest Conference playoffs will be held at Kettering University’s Atwood Stadium in Flint, MI this year. Aurora (Heartland Division) get the first seed and must play the wild card, which is Chicago City SC. The other Midwest semifinal is between Indy Eleven (Valley Division) and Flint City AFC (Great Lake Division).
Aurora played Indy Eleven in the national quarterfinals last year, will it happen again this year? Host Flint City AFC might have something to say.
You can read more about the other teams and conferences in the USL W playoffs here.
Don’t Be Cruel – Otis Blackwell before Elvis Presley
In closing I would like to thank Revontulet for bringing energy every Aurora home game. This past Saturday, Daniel Ditmanson said, “We reworded, ‘You came a long way / Just to lose’ to ‘You came a long way. See you next week.'” That soccer chant is based on “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” an African-American spiritual, published in 1927. However, in 1957 it became a pop hit after English boy singer Laurie London recorded it.
Revontulet capo Andy Kahl said this: “We didn’t want to taunt Chicago City – we try to keep the tone of our capo-led chants pretty positive. But given that both teams had already clenched playoff spots prior to the match, we altered the chant…. We’ve heard more than once from opposing players that they actually like hearing our nonsense from the stands – it’s an environment many of them don’t play in often. So we look for opportunities to point good-natured noise their way.”
I will be out of town with family, but follow Sota Soccer as we cover the Midwest Conference playoffs. Who’s going to Flint? Who’s going to Black Hart of St. Paul?