USL-W Spotlight: MN Aurora vs Chicago Dutch Lions

In May, Minnesota Aurora opened their season with a 8-0 win over the Chicago Dutch Lions on the road (at Aurora University in Aurora, Illinois). On Sunday, June 16, Aurora welcomed the Dutch Lions to Eagan’s TCO Stadium, the Heartland Division leaders hosting the bottom of the table. With only a 1 point lead over CDL’s stadium mate, River Light, going into the weekend, Aurora needed a win to stay atop the Heartland Division table. While River Light put up 12 unanswered goals on 6th place RKC, Aurora tallied 6 over the 7th place Chicago Dutch to maintain the lead.

Two first half goals highlighted 45 minutes of attacking spurts. Mariah Nguyen tallied the first in the 16th minute on the rebound after a shot from Sophie French hit the crossbar. French found the net in the 23rd minute to take Aurora up 2-0. CDL goalkeeper Abigail O’Connor made a handful of saves to hold Aurora to two in the first half while Aurora’s back-line picked apart every Chicago offensive sequence early. The visitors’ best chance came from a free kick in the 36th minute. Olivia Anderson lined up the shot, set just outside Aurora’s 18 yard box, and was able to clear the defense’s wall but put a little too much spin on the ball to curl it under the crossbar, sending it high instead.

MN Aurora forward Saige Wimes sprints in possession, under pressure from the Chicago Dutch Lions’ defense. (Photo by Jason Morales Ortiz)

Nicole Norfolk, whose presence and work rate has been praised by teammates and coaches alike in her first season with the club, explained that the back line stayed engaged by reading the pitch for the midfield: “You’re communicating and helping the attack, giving them information on who’s open on the field, how to break down the other team. I think that helps keep the back line engaged and locked in on the game so that we can stay focused, so that when it’s the other team transitioning, then we’re ready to go because we’re locked in and paying attention.”

Norfolk also had a front-row seat to a midfield performance that opened the floodgates for Aurora in the second half: “Our midfielders connected really well. I thought they were able to find each other’s feet a lot, and then get balls out wide. You know, I thought there was variation in our attack as well, obviously the set pieces we were successful on as well.”

Katie Duong and Servane Blouin entered at halftime (for French and Jelena Zibiljic respectively) and so began the clinic. Duong sent a screamer into goal in the 55th minute to make it 3-0. She had options but, “I’ve been trying to work on my long distance shot so I decided to hit it,” she said. Duong then notched an assist, sending a ball to Sofia Bush in the 57th minute for a cool finish, 4-0 — Bush’s first goal contribution of the season. 

Sofia Bush and Mariah Nguyen celebrate Bush’s first goal for the club in MN Aurora’s match against Chicago Dutch Lions. (Photo by Jason Morales Ortiz)

After skimming the crossbar with a freekick attempt in the 60th minute, Duong got another chance at a dead ball in the 63rd when she served a corner kick to the head of an unmarked Addy Weichers, 5-0. In the 75th minute, Duong did it again, this time finding Morgan Stone, in the same space and unmarked just as Weichers had been. Stone’s header made it 6-0.

MN Aurora #10, Katie Duong, takes a corner kick against Chicago Dutch Lions at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minn. (Photo by Jason Morales Ortiz)

“I usually just try to deliver it into a good area and I feel like we have so many aerial assets on this team that make it super easy – someone always gets on the end of it,” Duong said, a composed and casual answer for a player who tallied a goal and three assists in a 45 minute shift. 

“I think watching from the sideline, my biggest goal was just to bring some energy into the game,” she continued. “I mean, it’s a hot day out and I felt like we were able to do that. I think Servane [Blouin] did awesome getting her first minutes and she made two or three huge tackles out there.”

Aurora’s roster is deep, even with a handful of players still working back from injury or otherwise unavailable. Duong and Norfolk were both quick to praise teammates when talking about day’s victory and Duong seemed to deliberately use the phrase ‘game changers’ in place of ‘substitutes’ in one instance, a choice later clarified by head coach Colette Montgomery.

“We have the mentality that they’re not necessarily substitutes, they’re game changers,” Montgomery said when asked about squad rotation. “Again we’re asking for professional performances from the team, finding ways to break down teams’ defense from the final third,” she said. “Obviously [I’d] still like to be a little bit more clinical with some of those finishes but overall a great team performance [tonight].”

Six goals on the board was obviously an improvement after two consecutive matches that had Montgomery plotting finishing drills for the next day’s training. When NLF asked about this specifically, Montgomery said, “For the players, at the end I said, ‘I think you have all colluded to try to do this so we can keep working on scoring at training and give them [the fans] what they want.’ [But] at the end of the day it’s still hard to put goals on the board and so again, [it’s] a cast of characters that have all different individual talents and [they’re] bringing those different qualities to the field and that’s great to have.”

Aurora will play two more games at home this week (vs Bavarian on Thursday and Chicago City on Saturday) before finishing the regular season with two matches in Wisconsin. Four games don’t feel like much in these condensed schedules but they make up one-third of the regular season. Minnesota Aurora will need their depth to collect all the points they can to stay ahead of River Light.

MN Aurora players celebrate a sixth goal against Chicago Dutch Lions on Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Jason Morales Ortiz)