2022 National Tournament Recap: Gophers Make History - Reach National Title Match
The 2022 season is in the books for the Gophers, and what a season it was. As both sides made the trip to Nationals for the third tournament running, the Maroon squad battled through tough circumstances and put on some impressive performances and capped their season with a well-earned win, while the Gold squad put on a performance for the ages as they marched all the way to the National Championship match, becoming the best side in Minnesota history.
Taking the flight down to Austin, TX on Nov. 16, the Gophers prepared to kick off their national title hopes the next day, as they left it all on the line with the 2022 season ending only 3 short days away.
Maroon Ends 2022 Season on a High
Maroon entered the Open bracket of the National tournament, being drawn into the tournament in the national lottery. Prior to this, Maroon had a great performance in the Iowa State regional qualifier to get out of their group in second, only falling behind Iowa State in goal difference. Unfortunately losing the third place matchup to Minnesota State in overtime, Maroon trained hard the following weeks and won a few tough local matches against Turbo SC, Dakota County Tech, and Carleton College club.
Geared up for the National Tournament, Maroon found themselves playing in Group F, drawn up against Cal Poly, Tampa, and Babson. Only the group winner was guaranteed to advance from the open tournament groups, so Maroon was facing a fierce battle to top the group.
Minnesota (Maroon) vs. Cal Poly
Group F game #1
Cal Poly, a side Minnesota had actually seen just last year as the Gold squad bested them in a pk shootout in the national round of 16 championship bracket, posed a tough threat to open the group. The Mustangs showed their quality early, as they imposed themselves on the game and moved the ball around smoothly. The Gophers defended well, keeping the Mustangs at bay and looking for their opportunities to break. As the game opened up more, Cal Poly caught Minnesota on a counter as a nice run down the wing led to the Mustang attacker being fouled in the box and earning a penalty midway through the first half. Everhart guessed correctly but the penalty was out of reach into the bottom corner as Cal Poly took advantage. The half would finish with little other action as the Mustangs took the lead in.
The second half opened up with much more attacking intent from Maroon as they had to chase the game. Senior captain Gomez was developing a good battle with the fullback down the left flank as some good opportunities were stemming from his runs. The Gophers would continue to press on and found the best chance of the half through a gorgeous bit of countering: Shirk pressed aggressively and won the ball deep, and picked an outlet pass to Stair. Beating two players on the dribble, he found himself through on net, but a third Mustang defender was able to get over just in time to apply a bit of pressure, and Stair saw his attempt creep just wide of the far post. The Gophers continued to push but to no avail as the Cal Poly defense held on to win 1-0.
Minnesota (Maroon) vs. Tampa
Group F game #2
Maroon had a chance for redemption later that night as they took on the Spartans of Tampa University. Tampa had won their opening group match against Babson 1-0 earlier that day, so the Spartans were looking to battle for a spot atop the group. The match started in great fashion for the Gophers, as they took the lead early through a Persons goal. Tampa didn’t take long to respond however, leveling at 1-1 shortly after and earning a PK right before halftime to take the lead back at 2-1. Fatigue was starting to hit the Gophers in the second half as some key players went down through injury, straining an already shortened bench. Minnesota fought back well and carved out some good chances through their forwards, most notably a dubious no-call on an obvious foul on Stair in the box, but once again the Spartans were able to fend off the Gophers for long enough to claim a tight 2-1 victory.
Minnesota (Maroon) vs. Babson
Group F game #3
Now with no hope of advancing out of their group, Minnesota was playing for pride against Babson. Even missing some of their key players lost to injury the night previously, they ended their season on a high, putting on a strong performance from the start. The Gophers controlled the pace of play from the beginning, and patiently probed the Beaver defense. The breakthrough came from the feet of Persons early on, notching his second goal of the tournament in a strong debut campaign for the freshman. Stair followed up midway through the second half to double the Minnesota lead and wheeled away with a Griddy celebration that would make Justin Jefferson proud. Babson was able to claw one goal back late to set up a nervy ending, but steady as he was all season, goalkeeper Everhart made some huge saves to keep the Gopher lead intact. The Gophers saw out the 2-1 lead to claim a win at the 2022 National tournament and end their season on a high.
Overall, a strong season for Maroon in the 2022 season as they continued to stake their claim as a top competitor in the local region. An impressive Iowa State qualifier let everyone know that Maroon can compete right alongside the top teams in the region, as they drew Iowa State, topped St. Thomas, and only lost out to Iowa State on goal difference. Some impressive local victories against other college clubs, varsity squads, and men’s league teams led into a third straight national tournament appearance. Maroon will perhaps feel unlucky to not better last year's results, but can be proud of the fact they played three close and hard fought games despite the circumstances and were able to end their season with a national tournament victory, which no other “B” team at this year's tournament was able to achieve.
Special thanks to all the captains (Ryan Everhart, Kai Narum, Will Collins, Jonathan Gomez) and seniors on the squad who led a great team and continued Maroon’s growing legacy within the University of Minnesota Soccer Club and beyond!
Gold Becomes Best in School History: 2nd in the Nation
Gold came into the National Tournament undefeated in regional play, opening up with a league victory against St. Thomas. They claimed the Cyclone Invitational crown shortly afterward following convincing wins over Northern Iowa, Minnesota-Duluth, and Minnesota State, which propelled them into a championship game vs. Iowa State. The Gophers saw off Iowa State with ease, and prepared for the regional tournament. Onward into Colorado for the regional championships, Minnesota topped their group after victories over Air Force, Northern Colorado, and Grand Canyon, by which they toppled a tough Arizona State side in the national qualifier game, leading to a #1 region ranking for the second year running for the Gophers.
This set the stage for the National Tournament as the Gophers were drawn in Group F alongside Michigan State (qualified through region 3 tournament, ranked #5 in the region) and William & Mary (qualified through region 2 tournament, ranked #3 in the region). As the top two teams in the groups qualified for the knockout rounds, Gold knew the importance of a fast start to secure their bid into the knockouts. Beginning play the morning of the 17th, Gold kicked off their national title hopes in the group stages.
Minnesota (Gold) vs. Michigan State
Group F game #1
The Gophers were facing a tough Spartans side in their first nationals matchup, and after back to back opening game losses in the previous two tournaments, the Gophers knew the importance of starting quickly this time around. They started brilliantly on the front foot, with Asmelash just unable to direct a header goalwards in the opening 30 seconds of the game, and the pressure continued throughout the first half. It took them just 15 minutes to find an opener, after a corner found Larsson in the box to poke it over to Goldstein, who made no mistake and buried his finish into the bottom corner. There was no letup as Minnesota scored again just 7 minutes later, James latching onto another corner scramble rescued by Akindele and slamming home through traffic to double the Gopher lead. The Gophers carried their lead comfortably into the second half.
The second half would play out in a calm fashion for the Gophers, as they held the ball well and stifled any Michigan State opportunities. Ortwein would help put the finishing touches on a solid game with 10 minutes to go, as a whipped cross from his right foot was deflected by a Spartan defender into their own net. The score would end showing 3-0 in favor of Minnesota, and they were off to a flyer in the national tournament.
Minnesota (Gold) vs. William & Mary
Group F game #2
William & Mary, making their debut in this tournament, were a relative unknown for Minnesota. They played a tough game against Michigan State, finishing at 2-2 and missing a penalty that would have given them a win, so the Gophers were expecting a quality side. They frustrated the Gophers early on, their organization proving to be a challenge to break down. Though they weren’t playing at their best, a moment of quality from the Gophers set them apart as Yarmulnik picked a ball up in behind, spun away from a challenge, and cut a deft ball back for the oncoming Goldstein to tuck away for his second goal of the tournament. The Gophers would take their narrow lead into halftime, knowing they would have to deliver the dagger in the second half.
Minnesota would control the pace of play in the second half, as it was clear the Tribe were tiring out. Their control paid dividends as a shifty run from the fullback position found Iyer beating two players, and sliding a ball across the six yard box for Yarmulnik to tuck home with a tap-in. Just three minutes later, a corner whipped in from Yarmulnik found an unmarked James at the back post, as he tapped in his second of the tournament. The Gophers would add one more with 10 minutes to go as Remington found a lovely lofted ball into the path of Good, as he cut back to send his defender away and finished coolly around the onrushing keeper to put the cap on a Gopher scoring blitz, leaving them up 4-0 where the game would finish.
As the Gophers finished in first in Group F on the back of their 2 wins, they would face UConn in the round of 16 the following morning.
Minnesota (Gold) vs. UConn
Round of 16
The UConn Huskies had qualified for the national tournament as the top seed out of region 1, and qualified for the knockouts in second place in Group G, beating Florida 1-0 but falling to Texas Tech 2-1. The Gophers were chomping at the bit to get knockout play underway, and played their best match of the year. The game started slightly back and forth, but before long Minnesota exerted their influence all over the field. Staunch in defense, composed and quick in midfield, and dynamic up front, Minnesota left no doubts. Their first goal came after 15 minutes, a sustained period of possession leading to a beautiful goal as Yarmulnik slid through Asmelash in behind, who found Goldstein in the box, who turned and whipped a pass to the feet of Hoyt, who took a calm touch and slotted into the far post as the Gophers went up 1-0. Their next goal would come just 8 minutes later as another period of possession was stifling the Huskies squad, as Yunis picked out an onrushing Yarmulnik to finish first-time past the ailing keeper.
Minnesota happily took their lead into half, knowing the job wasn’t finished however. They came out with just the same intensity in the second half, as some frenetic pressing led to Brzakala winning the ball high up the pitch, and sliding a perfectly weighted ball through to Good to finish under the keeper less than 30 seconds into the half. The game now in hand, Minnesota turned on the style. Ferrer-Lugo would open his nationals account with a strike to the bottom corner gathered from his own deflected freekick to make it 4-0. Akindele would make it 5 with a tough finish to the far corner after Ortwein slid a clever ball through the backline, and Belisle would score the best goal of the season thus far as he took a half-cleared ball on the full volley, arcing a strike from 23 yards out into the top corner. The Gophers ran out dominant 6-0 winners in a statement win in their first knockout match.
Minnesota (Gold) vs. North Carolina
North Carolina had reached the quarterfinal on the back of a robust tournament showing thus far, with impressive group stage victories of 4-1 over Weber State, and 3-0 over Delaware. They had won their Round of 16 matchup against a tough Wisconsin side 1-0, setting up a quarterfinal rematch from 2021 which the Tar Heels had won 1-0. This year, Minnesota was determined to exact some revenge.
Minnesota came out of the gates flying, finding an opener within the first 5 minutes of play. Yarmulnik was the main creator once again, as a run down behind the backline saw him cut a ball back to an arriving Hoyt, who tapped home to put the Gophers up 1-0 early. Holding on to their lead, a back and forth first half played out as both sides found chances, but Minnesota held firm in defense.
The second half saw a renewed Tar Heels side come out of the gates just as Minnesota had in the first half. In just the fifth minute, a clever ball found the Tar Heels winger in behind, who evaded the onrushing Scheib and was just able to squeeze a finish under him as the Gophers conceded for the first time all tournament. Deadlocked at 1-1, the Gophers had to stabilize quickly. They found a few decent half-chances but nothing converted, and the half played out with the same scoreline as overtime would be needed to determine a winner.
One fifteen minute period of golden goal was set to be played, followed by penalties if there was no winner. Continuing with the theme of the night, the overtime period saw a red-hot start for the Gophers. Penning the Tar Heels up high, Minnesota saw a few chances before the decider came in dramatic fashion from the feet of Hoyt. Belisle brought down a ball and laid off a pass to Hoyt at the top of the box, who shifted the ball on to his left foot to unleash a ferocious strike to the far corner, in off the underside of the bar. Redemption for the 2021 quarterfinal was complete as Hoyt wheeled off to celebrate in the corner and move the Gophers on to the semifinals.
Minnesota (Gold) vs. UC Davis
The following morning saw Minnesota face off with UC Davis. The Aggies had reached the semifinal on the back of a first place group performance with a win over James Madison and draw with Ohio State, while their two knockout games saw impressive victories of 2-0 over Georgetown and 5-0 over Illinois. A cold rainy morning set up the penultimate match of the 2022 season, with one team getting a shot at a national title.
Minnesota, still fatigued from their battle with North Carolina, started uncharacteristically slow. The UC Davis attack was posing serious threats early on and the Gophers had to rely on Scheib to make some important saves to keep the game deadlocked. As the Gophers started to work their way into the game, the deadlock was broken just after the midway point of the first half, Asmelash latching onto a beautiful Versteeg freekick and laying it perfectly back across the net for Brzakala to bury emphatically. The goal showed just why Minnesota’s offense was to be feared, as they had scored in a split second of brilliance after looking the more fatigued side. The half would finish at 1-0 with the Gophers much more comfortable in the game now.
The second half started night and day for Minnesota. Having adjusted to the Aggies personnel and gameplan, the Gophers came out with a firm control over the game. The Gophers were unlucky not to pull ahead within the first 5 minutes of the half as a Yarmulnik header crashed off the post, but they wouldn’t have to wait long to find their second. As a Gopher cross was battled for in the box, Belisle read the defenders clearance and stepped in front to block it, setting himself up perfectly to finish at the near post and double the Minnesota lead with 25 minutes to play. With one foot in the final, the Gophers did well to hold off the Aggies and prevent them from any clear chances to close out the match. The whistle blew at 2-0 to signify that Minnesota would be playing for a national championship that evening.
Minnesota (Gold) vs. Brigham Young
National Championship Match
Brigham Young University, the back to back reigning national champions and perennial powerhouse, were the Gophers final test for a 2022 national crown. The Cougars had, similarly to the Gophers, stormed their way through the tournament thus far. Convincing group wins of 6-0 and 4-1 left them top of their group, and their three knockout games thus far had shown 6-0, 3-0, and 4-1 victories over Colorado State, Ohio State, and Texas respectively. The final match of 2022 was set as the two best teams in the nation faced off.
Minnesota kicked off first and were in dreamland not even a full minute into the game. A long ball snagged by Yarmulnik saw him drop a clever ball inside to Larsson, who dribbled inside and picked a piercing ball back through to Yarmulnik, as a gorgeous first touch left him untouched to finish an unsaveable effort into the bottom corner. 1-0 up after just 30 seconds bolstered the team’s spirits, and Minnesota continued to press on with no rest for the Cougars. The Gophers came agonizingly close to a second goal within 5 minutes, as Goldstein leashed a curling effort inches wide of the post. The Gophers continued to prod BYU’s defense, as a Yarmulnik header also flashed not more than a foot over the crossbar. The Cougars slowly started to exert more influence on the game as the first half ticked on, but the Minnesota defense was as rigid as they had been all season, limiting the BYU offense to half-chances. The halftime whistle blew with the scoreboard reading 1-0 in favor of the Gophers, with 40 more minutes of the 2022 season to determine a National Champion.
The second half started and BYU began to press higher, knowing they needed to find an equalizer. Minnesota was content to absorb the pressure and strike on the counter, with Goldstein and Yarmulnik providing a threat up top. The first 20 minutes of the half played out much this way, as the Minnesota defense answered every question BYU posed, but the connection on offense was dying down as the fatigue of the tournament was clearly starting to show. With just 14 minutes remaining, BYU found an equalizer as a driven cross deflected off two Gopher players and fell to a lurking winger at the back post. The Gophers rallied well and fought back to create some offense, but it was a tough ask with many players dropping from injury and fatigue. BYU pulled ahead with 2 minutes to go in heartbreaking fashion as the Cougar striker found a pocket of space and finished well. The final whistle would blow shortly after to hand BYU the 2022 National Title, ending Minnesota’s season just shy of a championship victory.
What a ride for the 2022 Gophers. Record setters as the 2022 Minnesota Gold squad becomes the best in school history, going undefeated on the hunt for a second straight regional crown, featuring record setting wins along the way, and putting on one formidable display after another as they marched to the National Championship game. A tough 1-2 loss to BYU after a gritty performance just fell short of Minnesota capturing the national title. There’s much to be said about this season, and a few blog posts can hardly do it justice. Just know that it was a special year to watch unfold for everyone connected to Gopher soccer, and every Gopher fan will look back on this year fondly.
A huge thank you to our captain (Alejandro Ferrer-Lugo) and all our seniors from this squad, as they led a ridiculously talented Gopher team to a record setting year. Their presence will be missed, but their legacy will be memorialized within the club’s long history after a brilliant finale.