2023 Regular Season Recap: Gophers Take Home Inaugural Crown - Plus Regional Tournament Preview!
The Gophers went unbeaten en route to a regular season title
(Pictured above) Junior midfielder Zach Ziegert was a key figure in completing Minnesota's regular season title
*Photo credit AV sports photography
With the Regional Championships just days away now, both Maroon and Gold finished successful regular season campaigns. Gold took home the inaugural UMWCSL title, going unbeaten and finishing with a 1st overall NIRSA regional ranking, while Maroon finished second only behind Gold and finished with a NIRSA regional ranking of 9th overall. Let's have a look back at their progress up to this point:
Maroon Regular Season
Maroon finishes second in league, top 10 in region
Minnesota Maroon vs. Mankato
Maroon's first league match of the season ended in a 4-1 win over Minnesota State-Mankato. Maroon got off to a blazing start, netting twice within the opening 10 minutes. It was a pair of Freshman debutants who led off the scoring, as Finn Kennedy would get off the mark with a well placed finish just 6 minutes into the contest, and Sergio Lee buried a PK in the 9th minute to take the Gophers into half 2-0 up.
Mankato struck back quickly in the second half to pull within one goal, but Maroon answered back swiftly as a goalmouth scramble was won by Freshman Wilton Bomsta to restore the 2 goal cushion. As Mankato missed a penalty midway through the second half, Maroon would capitalize on the missed chance soon after as senior forward Gomez corralled a finish after some hard pressing on the goalkeeper by Grad. striker Keller.
Minnesota Maroon vs. Winona State
Maroon continued their strong start to the season by defeating Winona State by a convincing 6-0 scoreline. They would capitalize on a good spell of play starting after 15 minutes, as freshman winger Sergio Lee would score his second of the season to put Maroon up. Sergio Lee turned creator for the second goal, finding fellow freshman winger Antonio Lee for his first goal of the season. Sergio Lee would continue his top-class afternoon as he assisted senior Cal Geordt to take Maroon up 3-0 going into the break.
Maroon would continue their methodical play in the second half, as senior striker Stair opened his account for the season early into the half. The Gophers would add two late tallies to make a definitive 6-0 scoreline, freshman mid Kennedy finding his second goal of the season and Stair completing a well-taken brace on the day to round off Maroon's afternoon.
Minnesota Maroon vs. Minnesota-Duluth
The Gophers started much the better side as they were moving the ball around UMD with ease. They wouldn't have to wait long for their advantage to pay off as Sergio Lee added his team leading 3rd assist of the season with a lovely ball across the box for onrushing midfielder Kennedy to slot home for his 3rd goal of the season. They would add to their lead shortly before halftime as a corner flicked towards goal was impeded by a Bulldog handball, and Stair buried his effort from the penalty spot to double Maroon's lead.
Into the second half, the Bulldogs started pressing forward looking for a way back into the contest. Their efforts were rewarded early in the half as a strong run across the box saw the Bulldog forward hit a low strike to the bottom corner that Brooks was just unable to reach to halve the UMD defecit. Maroon stayed strong for the remainder of the game and held off Duluth's efforts to claim a well-earned 2-1 victory.
Minnesota Maroon vs. St. Thomas
Maroon suffered their first loss of the season to St. Thomas, losing 3-0 to put the first blemish on their record. The Gophers started slow, finding it tough to connect any passes in transition and allowing the Tommies to pen them in their own half. The opening goal would come in the 19th minute as a Tommie winger reacted well to a loose ball in the box and poked home a finish to open the scoring. Just 10 minutes later, the Tommies would double the lead as a swift counter and well-placed finish left Maroon chasing the game even more.
Maroon started brighter in the second half, playing with urgency but St. Thomas would net a 3rd just 7 minutes into the half to stifle Maroon's comeback efforts. Maroon played the majority of the rest of the time in the Tommies half, but were unable to make any efforts pay off as St. Thomas held on to the clean sheet.
Minnesota Maroon vs. Minnesota Gold
Maroon suffered a league defeat to the Gold squad as they were unable to hold off their fellow Gopher team. Maroon was facing pressure from kickoff as the Gold squad established possession high up the field. A standout performance by the Maroon backline and Brooks in net did excellent to weather the Gold onslaught. Finding a couple counter chances later in the half, nothing concrete was created as the break would come with nothing to separate the two Gopher teams.
The second half saw more pressure piled on by Gold, as a clever finish was unable to be saved to take Gold 1-0 up. Shortly after, another finish would land for Gold as Maroon's comeback chances seemed slim. Maroon battled back well, forcing an excellent late save out of Gold's keeper but they could not break the Gold defense as the final whistle blew at 0-2.
Minnesota Maroon vs. Nebraska
Maroon got back to winning ways in UMWCSL play, taking 3 points from the first of two back-to-back games as they defeated Nebraska-Lincoln 3-0. The game would take a bit to settle initally, with both sides probing to find weaknesses. Maroon struck first after 20 minutes, as a high ball lofted into the box was found by freshman fullback Svenby as he tucked home his first goal as a Gopher to put Maroon up 1-0. The score would remain that way going into the break.
Maroon came out in the second half and though a few chances went both ways, Maroon would put the dagger in the game in the 87th minute as a ball into the box from Arshad found junior striker Shirk on a clever run, as a deft touch took it around his defender and the following finish found the top corner. Maroon would add one more tally late as a blatant pulldown in the box on Sergio Lee would result in a penalty. Lee dispatched his penalty to give a healthy 3-0 win as the final whistle blew.
Minnesota Maroon vs. Northern Iowa
Facing the second game of their Iowa road trip, Maroon pulled off a consecutive 3-0 win over Northern Iowa. Maroon didn't wait long to get the scoring underway, as a searching through ball from A. Lee found Stair, who was able to control and tap home a finish. The half would play out with the Gophers seeing the better of play, and they would add to their lead right before the halftime break. A driving run by Svenby beat his defender and his ensuing ball across the box was met by the onrushing A. Lee, tucking his finish in the bottom corner to make it two goals in two games on the weekend.
Maroon wasn't done in the second period, as they would add one more goal midway through the half. A nice dribble and lofted ball by freshman center mid Zach Mattes was picked up by Arshad, who had a couple touches and lashed his shot into the top corner to give a commanding 3-0 lead.
Starting the season strong with wins and wrapping up the season on an Iowa road trip with two wins from two means Maroon finshes the regular season second in the North Division, only behind Minnesota-Gold, to put together a stellar campaign. In addition, Maroon's impressive showing landed them a top-ten NIRSA regional ranking, finishing the season at number 9 overall.
Gold Regular Season
Gold wins inaugural UMWCSL crown, finishes first overall in region
Minnesota Gold vs. Iowa State
Traveling down to Ames, Gold got their season started with 3 points in a comfortable 3-0 away victory over UMWCSL foe Iowa State. Gold started the match testing Iowa State early, the runs of grad. winger Brzakala and sophomore winger Elias causing trouble for the Cyclone fullbacks. The game settled midway through the period until Gold burst to life in the final 15 minutes of the half. The scoring began with a powerful run to the touchline by Brzakala, whose precise cutback was finished neatly by Elias for a debut goal on Gold. Elias would be the main creator for the scond goal just two minutes later, as a shifty run and ball across found senior forward Goldstein perfectly placed to tap home for 2-0 and his first of the season. Elias wasn't done there as another driving run saw him get fouled by the onrushing keeper, and senior forward Yarmulnik dispatched the ensuing penalty to settle Gold's lead at 3-0.
There wasn't much left to do for the Gophers in the second half, as they maintained their lead and stifled any Iowa State comeback chances. The referee completely misplacing a certain penalty as a freekick means Gold will have felt they could have added to their tally even more, but in the end Minnesota cruised to a comfortable league-opening victory to set the tone for the season.
Minnesota Gold vs. Creighton
Following their opening day victory over Iowa State, Gold faced a new opponent in the Creighton Bluejays. Gold started quickly and maintained control over the game throughout, winning 5-0 to complete a successful road trip.
The Gophers didn't take long to make their mark on the game, as grad. winger Brzakala capitalized on some nice interplay between junior mid Ziegert and senior forward Yarmulnik. A cutting ball from Ziegert and one-touch finish took the Gophers up 1-0 early. Not to be outdone, Elias would add another goal just minutes later to cap his fantastic weekend. Elias picked up a loose ball around the back and dribbled past a defender before lashing his effort past the keeper. Gold would settle in to the half at this stage and add two more goals towards the latter part of the half, as sophomore winger Ortwein opened his account for the season after a lovely turn and dish from sophomore forward Remington; and Brzakala would take his tally to 3 goals in 2 games as he capitalized on a missed Creighton clearance and slotted in to the corner.
Much like the game before, Gold held on to their lead comfortably in the second half, adding one more tally through a gorgeous Yarmulnik freekick. After seeing out a 5-0 scoreline to end the match, Gold took away 6 points from a successful opening weekend in UMWCSL league play.
Minnesota Gold vs. Winona State
Gold continued their hot start to the season, defeating Winona State by a resounding 10-0 scoreline on their home opener. Gold didn't take long to start the scoring, Yarmulnik finding the net withing the opening 5 minutes. The Gophers would put a comfortable lead between them and the Warriors, with Elias adding a tally to make it 3 in 3 games, Ortwein grabbing two goals of his own, and Elsayad tacking on his own tally to go up 5-0 into the half.
The second half saw a repeat performance as 5 more goals were added. Goldstein finished his second of the season, Elsayad completed a hat-trick with two more goals, and Ortwein bagged 2 more to make it 4 for him on the day. A strong 10-goal showing for the Gophers ensured they maintained their undefeated start to the season as league play continued on.
Minnesota Gold vs. Mankato
Gold suffered their first setback of the season but maintained their undefeated status, playing out a 3-3 draw against Minn. State-Mankato. MSU started well, finding the first goal of the game before 20 minutes. The Gophers would respond before the half ended, as Yarmulnik won a goalmouth scramble from a corner kick to pull the Gophers level. The teams would enter the halftime break deadlocked at 1-1.
The second half saw MSU take the lead again early. Gold responded again, as a nice move on the wing from Hoyt opened up space in the box for an oncoming Goldstein to level the contest once again. A mistake at the back let MSU reclaim the lead shortly afterward, as the Gophers had to battle back once again. Yarmulnik made it two for himself on the day as he buried a freekick to make it 3-3. The Gophers pushed for the winner in the final phase of the game with Makato hanging on to their draw, but the scoreline ended 3-3 to give both teams a singular point.
Minnesota Gold vs. Minnesota Maroon
Gold got back to winning ways against the Maroon squad of UMN, earning a 2-0 victory under the lights of Huntington Bank Stadium. Gold started the match with fantastic intensity, pinning Maroon deep in their own end for a large part of the first half. Though numerous chances were created, none were finished off as the Maroon defense held on to keep the contest level. The teams would go into halftime scoreless.
Into the second half, Gold made their pressure pay off as a move down the wing from Goldstein saw him pick out a fantastic cutback into Yarmulnik, whose backheel finish found the bottom corner. Not content with the one, Gold struck again as Goldstein won a battle in the box and volleyed home to double the lead. The game would end with an important cleansheet and 2-0 victory to set Gold back on track to claim the title.
Minnesota Gold vs. St. Thomas
The Gophers made it two wins in two days as they soundly defeated crosstown league rival St. Thomas by a 5-0 scoreline.
The Gophers started hot once again, dictating the pace of play and finding numerous early chances to attack the Tommie backline. This time however, it didn't take long for a chance to pay dividends as a shifty run from Elias found a streaking Hoyt on the end of his cross to give the Gophers a 1-0 lead, and open Hoyt's account for the season. Elias wasn't finished there as less than 10 minutes later, a driving run saw him double the Minnesota lead as he cut through two players and tucked home a neat finish. Fully in control, the Gophers would add a third before half. Senior Captain O'Rourke would head home his first of the season from a wonderfully delivered freekick by Sophomore midfielder Blanco, as the Gophers would take a commanding 3-0 lead into the break.
As the second half got underway, the Gophers showed no signs of slowing down as they added a 4th tally quickly, Yarmulnik heading home from an Elias cross. Elsayad would wrap up the scoring as he found a neat finish from his left foot on top of the box, leaving Minnesota up 5-0 as the full-time whistle blew.
Minnesota Gold vs. Duluth
The Gophers wrapped up their league title with a 4-0 beating of Minnesota-Duluth. Playing in Duluth, the Gophers started a little slow on the day. A couple chances here and there for the Gophers in the first half failed to convert, and though Duluth posed little threat, Minnesota couldn't take advantage as the halftime break came at 0-0.
The second half came and immediately Minnesota rectified the scoreline. less than two minutes into the second half, a ball won in the box by Goldstein turned into an opportunistic finish for Elias as he slammed a finish high into the roof of the net. The Gold squad came back again just minutes later, as Elias poked the ball past on the onrushing Bulldog keeper. A careless red card picked up by the Duluth centerback following the second goal meant the game was easily in hand for the Gophers now, as they added two more tallies to round out the scoring. Ortwein would finish into an empty net off a clever pass around the keeper from Elias, and Elias would complete his hat trick as he rounded the keeper off a well-weighted pass from Barrett.
NIRSA Region 5 Tournament Preview
Through an undefeated league campaign, Gold took home a first ever UMWCSL regular-season title and also a 1st overall NIRSA regional ranking to complete a very successful regular-season. With league play wrapping up, the NIRSA regional tournament takes place this weekend as 3 teams will claim automatic bids to the National Tournament.
Holding the first overall seed going into this weekends regional tournament finds Minnesota matched up in a group against #13 Air Force (6:35 pm Friday Oct. 20) and #12 New Mexico (10:45 am Saturday Oct 21). Should Minnesota win their group, they would find themselves in a national-tournament play-in game. They would face off against the winner of Group F, which would be one of #6 Minot State, #7 Denver, or #18 Creighton. All to play for this weekend as the squad heads down to Greeley, CO to attempt to bring Minnesota back to the National Tournament.
Stay tuned for more updates soon Gopher fans!