Gold 2021 Full Season Recap/National Tournament: Player Awards, Looking Ahead, and More
Another season come and gone, and it was quite a good one. Lets take a look back now that the dust has settled...
A season that began with a promising pre-season was a harbinger of the success to come for the Gophers this year. The Gophers beat MIAC tournament champions Carleton College 2-1, drew MIAC regular season champions and NCAA sweet 16 participant St. Olaf 1-1, beat MIAC tournament semi-finalists Macalester College 3-2, and bested a Bethel University team that finished just outside the MIAC playoff spots 3-0.
The Gophers carried this momentum into a successful regional qualifier tournament at Iowa State, topping the group on the back of victories over Minnesota State, UNI, and Drake. Facing their fellow Gophers in the qualifier match, the Gold squad came out strong and booked their ticket to the regional tournament on the back of a 5-0 win.
Minnesota continued their good form up to the regional tournament, avenging their only loss of the season to this point against St. Thomas by taking a commanding 3-0 victory. In the regional tournament, the Gophers continued their free-scoring ways, topping their group again with victories over Denver University, North Dakota State, and the hosts Colorado State. Their spot in the national tournament already booked, the Gophers toppled CU Boulder in the regional final to claim a regional title that hadn’t been won by the Gophers since 2009.
Arriving in Foley, Alabama on Wednesday November 17, the stage was set for the final tournament of Gold’s season: the National Championship tournament. 24 teams across the country qualified through their respective regions and found their way here, with a chance to stake their claim as the top teams in the nation. Gold was drawn into group F, facing them up against the University of Michigan, and Tufts University.
Minnesota vs Michigan: National Group Stage F Game #1
The Gophers opened up group play on Thursday morning against the University of Michigan. The Wolverines last showing at the National Tournament in 2019 saw them bow out at the quarterfinals, only losing to eventual champions BYU. It was a fragmented start for Minnesota, as two early injuries saw forced changes to the backline. Michigan made the rocky start pay off, as a ball over the top saw the Wolverine striker round the oncoming challenge from keeper Bennet Schieb and slot into an empty net. The goal served as a wakeup call for the Gophers, and they kept the ball in the Wolverine half for the remainder of the period. Set piece after set piece was won by the gophers, but ultimately the Wolverines weathered the storm and held their lead upon halftime.
The Gophers kept their momentum going into the second half, testing the Michigan keeper with some shots from forwards Jasper Goldstein and Sam Yarmulnik. Making some good saves, the Gophers kept piling the pressure on through set pieces and attacking runs, but the Wolverines defense was equal to each test. With about 15 minutes to go, the Wolverines took advantage of the Gophers' need to chase the game and struck on the counter, doubling their lead. The Gophers kept pushing but their sustained pressure all game didn’t pay off and Michigan took the 2-0 victory. Ultimately a disappointing start for the Gophers, as they will have felt they didn’t make their abundance of set pieces pay off as they had previously in the season, but a chance for redemption against Tufts would present itself later that evening.
Minnesota vs. Tufts: National Group Stage F Game #2
Tufts University lost their opening group match against Michigan 2-1, so the Gophers knew it was a simple scenario: Win = into the knockout rounds; lose or draw = dropped down to the consolation bracket. The Gophers kicked off and almost scored within the first 10 seconds: a long ball from Avery Larsson was picked up on the wing by Logan Rohloff, who dribbled inside past one player and attempted a curling finish to the far post that was just saved by the Tufts keeper. The game proceeded in much the same manner from there on, as the Gophers clearly had the better of the play but were failing to capitalize on their opportunities. The Gophers went into halftime a bit frustrated, knowing they had the better of the play but the goals were going to have to start coming soon.
Onto the second half and one key figure emerged in freshman forward Owen Salzwedel. Salzwedel’s impact was noticed right away, causing havoc for the Tufts defense off the dribble. Five minutes into the second half, Salzwedel picked a gorgeous through ball for Sam Yarmulnik, who just got a toe to the ball to prod a finish beyond the onrushing Tufts keeper. The levee broke, and two more goals came quickly, as Salzwedel buried a finish from a Yarmulnik pass and Kyle Doppler found the head of Robel Asmelash from a cross to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Tufts won a late penalty and converted, but ultimately would mean little as the Gophers clinched their spot in the knockout rounds.
Minnesota vs California Polytechnic: National Round of 16
The next day, a knockout tie with California Polytechnic loomed for the Gophers. Topping group F with wins over Purdue and Appalachian State, a tough task would have to be accomplished by Minnesota to keep their national title dreams alive. The game was taut from start to finish, neither team creating too many clear-cut chances. A few good combination plays from forwards Yarmulnik and Goldstein led to some half chances, but eventually the final whistle blew with the contest deadlocked 0-0.
Extra time would have to be played and if no winner was decided, it would be down to a penalty shootout to decide the winner. Much like the rest of the game, neither team gave an inch, and it was down to PK’s. The Gophers won the coin toss and got the first shot. As the team's dedicated taker, Yarmulnik stepped up to take the penalty. His effort was just saved by the Cal Poly keeper, barely pushing the shot onto the post. The Mustangs scored their first effort to put the Gophers in the hole early. Bridger Good shot next, and absolutely buried an unsaveable effort in the top corner. Rising to the occasion next was keeper Bennet Scheib, coming up with a fantastic save to draw Minnesota level in the shootout. Senior Logan Rohloff then gave the Gophers the lead with a confident penalty. Scheib guessed right again on the next Cal Poly penalty, but just couldn’t keep out the strike and the Mustangs leveled at 3-3. Unshaken, Asmelash strode up and buried his shot in the bottom corner. Scheib rose to the occasion for the second time and saved another Cal Poly penalty, giving the Gophers the chance to win it with their fifth taker, Kyle Doppler. As cool as can be, Doppler stuttered his run up, and slotted home comfortably to put the Gophers through to the last eight of the tournament.
Minnesota vs North Carolina: National Quarterfinal
On to the national quarterfinals and the Gophers found themselves facing the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, national runners up in 2018 and a perennially strong program. The game started as a back and forth affair, both teams playing combative in defense. Midway through the first half, the Tar Heels found a nice ball down the wing that was slotted across the box for a tap-in. The Gophers found a couple good chances through direct play, but the fatigue of the tournament was clearly starting to set in.
Following half time, Minnesota came out with an attacking lineup to chase the game. It almost paid dividends right away, creating a few chances that were well saved by the UNC keeper. Midway through the second half, a second yellow for a Gopher defender saw an even steeper hill for Minnesota to climb to get back in the game. Despite the one-man deficit, the Gophers kept pushing but just couldn’t quite find the back of the net as the final whistle went to end Minnesota’s season in the final 8 of the national tournament.
Final Thoughts, Players of the Season, and Looking Ahead...
Ultimately this season will be remembered as a huge success for the Gophers, with a strong preseason against some very tough opponents, dominating the local region’s clubs in the regional qualifier, winning back a region V title that had been elusive for over 10 years, and putting on a strong run to the final 8 teams in the national tournament.
PLAYERS OF THE SEASON:
As voted on by the squad, here are your 2021 players of the season:
Best Goalkeeper: Bennet Scheib
Sure he would’ve won this award by default, but junior keeper Bennet Scheib made sure to earn it anyway. Solid at the back, commanding, and with lightning quick shot-stopping, Bennet’s moment of the season is obviously his two penalty saves to win the Gophers a national round-of-16 matchup, but special mention to his acrobatic 1v1 saves in a tightly contested regional final.
Best Defender: Alejandro Ferrer-Lugo
Oh Captain my captain. The junior defender was in imperious form all season, showing tremendous composure at the back. He displayed an impressive range of passing and defensive ability. A calm presence at the back and still with one more season at the helm, the Gopher backline should be in good form next year.
Best Midfielder: Avery Larsson
One of the senior members of the team, there are rumors he enrolled in grad school just to keep playing soccer. However, he commanded the midfield with poise, and provided a steady presence and workrate all season. His combativeness was on full display during the national tournament as he executed about 18 picture-perfect slide tackles over the course of 4 games. Coming back for one final year of grad school next year, he will look to top this successful season with an even better one.
Best Forward and MVP: Sam Yarmulnik
A Yarmulnik in form was a terrifying prospect for defenders all season. Scoring 17 goals, the top scorer on the team showed his class over and over again against every opponent. Not just content with the goalscoring, Yarmulnik provided a number of crucial assists too. As another returner, the Gophers will be overjoyed to have his goals back among the team next season and other teams surely won’t be.
Rookie of the Year: Jasper Goldstein
Coming into a team as a newcomer is always difficult, but Goldstein highlighted his importance to the squad right away. Forming a deadly partnership with Yarmulnik, Goldstein came up with a number of goals and assists to complete a promising rookie campaign. Typically liking to drop deeper, there were times when the link-up up top looked almost telepathic, and Gopher fans will be excited at what’s to come from this young striker in the coming years.
As off-season is underway, the boys from both Gold and Maroon are quietly training hard to prepare for next season. A few games are on the horizon this spring for the Gophers, as they look to hit ground running in the regular season. They’ll be looking to match and better their exploits from this season, defending their regional title and looking to take a real shot at bringing home the national title for the first time in school history. More to come soon Gopher fans…
Ski-U-Mah and Go Gophers!