USL-W Spotlight: MN Aurora, Home and Away

Scenes during the Minnesota Aurora FC vs RKC Third Coast match at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minn., on Thursday, May 30, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Minnesota Aurora’s home opener on Thursday, May 30, proved that Teal is still the real deal. A flurry of goals from both veterans and newcomers showed that the inaugural squad’s results were not a fluke and that the franchise can continue to draw and develop top talent. Aurora shut out RKC Third Coast with a 7-0 win in front of 5,092 fans.

Midfielder Mariah Nguyen became one of the faces of the franchise in 2022 and her game has only gotten better. The Andover-native will begin her senior year at the University of St Thomas in the fall, where this past August, Nguyen was named TicketSmarter’s Summit League Offensive Peak Performer of the Week for registering a hat trick in UST’s 7-0 win against Niagara. She registered another for Minnesota Aurora on Thursday, on top of assisting in each of the opening two goals, scored by Addison Weichers and Saige Wimes. The hat trick earned her Star Tribune Player of the Game honors.

“Pregame we just agreed, you know, we had to start really strong,” Nguyen said. “We wanted to put on a show. It was an amazing turnout tonight, 5000-something right? So we knew – We just wanted to put away as many as we can as fast as possible. And at halftime, it is the same thing, just cleaning up so minor issues that we had in midfield, finding each other and stuff like that, and yeah exploiting their pockets.”

Minnesota Aurora FC defender Addison Weichers (16) passes the ball during the match against RKC Third Coast at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minn., on Thursday, May 30, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

Cat Rapp scored a brace and both goals were bangers, the first pinging off the crossbar to bounce down and in, the second a tight angle shot to the far post. Rapp said of the first goal: “I was thinking: turn it and shoot. I’ve — I was actually telling Addy [Weichers], we had worked on this after practice, I was just thinking, you know, this is the exact thing that we set up. It’s like I’m just gonna turn and shoot it and aim for the corner, and that’s what happened.”

“Obviously, Cat Rapp is well known in these parts,” said head coach Colette Montgomery. “She’s a fan favorite. We’ve kind of been bringing her in a little bit, gave her that start in that 10 position, moved her into the nine. We know that she’s a valuable player, going to score goals. And I’m not sure; I’ll check with the statistics, but I’m pretty sure that she put herself in line to be in the top scorers of the franchise, so excited for her.”

But the new faces are also making an impact and making their own names known.

Minnesota Aurora FC forward Saige Wimes (24) celebrates her goal with Minnesota Aurora FC midfielder Mariah Nguyen (19) at the Minnesota Aurora FC vs RKC Third Coast match on Thursday, May 30, 2024 at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minnesota. (Photo by Michael Lake / Lake Photography)

Saige [Wimes] has really impressed,” Montgomery said. “You know, we’ve been bringing her back from a little niggle, but she’s looking fantastic as you can see. I wasn’t lying when I said we’ve got top caliber players. [She has] lots of movement off the ball. She’s really quick footed, really creative in that final third, exactly what we’ve been asking the team for.”

Despite going into the break with a 4-0 lead, Montgomery said she emphasized continuing to play their game, to their ability for the full 90 minutes:

“We’ve challenged the players to play with excellence no matter what minute it is, how many goals are scored. We want to be as sharp through the 60-to-90th minute as possible. And the players that come off the bench, we call them game changers because we want them to come in and make an impact, challenge that starting group for spots and keep everybody on their toes.”

For their part, RKC Third Coast put up a fight. While they conceded 7 goals and were unable to score any of their own, they still took home some positives. As centerback Ellie Rebmann told NLF, “Even though the score was not what we wanted, I do think that there were still many positives. Getting to play in a stadium with a crowd like we did was a great experience for starters, but I also think that we were really able to come together as a team. I think that we definitely had some good moments at times, and I think we defended pretty well as well.”

Rebmann was key to the damage control making one particularly massive block that may have had a few reporters whistling in the pressbox.

“Honestly, all that went through my mind was that this player had a perfect shot open to the back post, and I knew I could get my body behind it to block it,” Rebmann said. “I saw her take the shot and just tried to make sure i got my foot on it with enough power to get it out of the box.”

Adding three goals to their tally in the second half, Aurora stamped a big W on their home opener. But then they hit the road – Chicago again.

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“[We’re] excited to be on the road for one game and then come back for a home game stretch. So excited to be back with the fans, be back in this environment.” – Aurora Head Coach Colette Montgomery

Sunday saw Minnesota Aurora return to Chicago proper (ie. not Aurora, Ill.) to face Chicago City SC on the campus of Loyola. Chicago City holds first place in the division, having won all three games played prior to Sunday. Aurora sat in second after sharing a point with River Light on the previous road trip.

Sunday’s match was pretty similar to the River Light game – a scrappy midfield battle interrupted at times by blocked crosses and shots into the box. City took the lead early after Aurora keeper Taylor Kane tackled an attacking player inside her box, giving Chicago City a penalty kick for DOGSO (Denial of an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity) in the 9th minute. The hosts converted to go up 1-0.

Aurora finally found the breakthrough in the 27th minute when Yao Zhou sent a freekick in to Kaylie Chambers to level at 1-1.

Both sides had a number of chances in the second half but none found the goal; instead they gutted out another 63 minutes for a draw. And now, Aurora is done with their road trips to the Chicago area.

Minnesota Aurora will return to TCO Stadium on Thursday, June 6, to host Rochester FC. Then on Saturday, June 8, they will host River Light. TCO Stadium will be ready and waiting.

Minnesota Aurora FC supporters celebrate a home opener win after defeating RKC Third Coast 7-0 at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minn., on Thursday, May 30, 2024.
(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)