MINNEAPOLIS — The Land of 10,000 Lakes will have another chance to claim a national championship on Saturday, July 23 when the Twin Cities' pre-professional Minnesota Aurora FC hosts the South Georgia Tormenta FC for the USL W League championship.
With the league's Coach of the Year on the sidelines, a triplet triple threat on the field and a sold-out crowd in the stands, the Aurora FC (11-0-1) will take on the Tormenta FC (7-1-4) at 7 p.m. at TCO Stadium in Eagan. The game will be live-streamed on Elevensports.com.
On Tuesday, the USL W League announced several league-wide awards, including Minnesota Aurora FC head coach Nicole Lukic earning Coach of the Year honors.
According to Aurora forward Morgan Turner, Lukic had her eyes set on the league championship when she was building the team.
"Honestly, the first time I ever talked with Nicole, she said she wanted to win the whole thing and I was like, ‘Awesome like I love winning,’" Turner said during Friday's championship media availability.
Lukic explained on Friday that building the Aurora FC into a championship-caliber team took time.
"We spent a lot of time on just talking about, before the season as a coaching staff, what we wanted our team culture to look like, what kind of player we wanted to bring in so to be able to then go through the steps every single day of doing the little things right," she said. "A lot of credit goes to the players for just having the commitment and drive to be better players."
Lukic added that the team's culture was built with the team's pre-professional players in mind.
"A lot of them want to play at the next level so I think a lot of our team culture is focused around that and just doing the best we can and building each other up every single day," she said.
Against South Georgia on Saturday, Lukic said the team's depth of players who can actively contribute to each game will be a factor.
"I think the cool thing about our team is we’re not relying on one person to have an incredible game," the coach explained, "and I think that makes the team feel good that anybody any day could have a great game for us but as long as the team has a good game, we’re going to be just fine."
'She wanted to win the whole thing'
Team captain and defender Makenzie Langdok said the team is ready for the championship after the season and playoff run that they've had.
"I think we’re peaking at the right time, individually and as a group, we’re peaking at the right time so I think we’re just itching for tomorrow," the St. Michael native said. "I think you can see that in individual players, right, like obviously Morgan Turner has had a heck of a two weeks here and like everybody individually just feels sharp and ready to go and you can tell in training, for sure."
Turner leads the team with eight goals this season and currently has a five-game goal-scoring streak, including the playoffs, according to the team.
"We’ve had different players, like Kenzie said, peak the last couple games here that maybe weren’t Star of the Game yet or didn’t score the best goal yet but everything’s just clicking at the right time and we’re excited to see what happens tomorrow," Lukic said.
Going into Saturday's championship game, Lukic and her squad will have to prepare to attack the USL W League Golden Glove winner in the Tormenta's goal box and defend against the USL W League Golden Boot winner.
Tormenta FC's Amy Andrews won the club's first-ever Golden Boot award, including the club's other teams in different USL leagues. Andrews scored half of the team's goals with 16 in 10 games, averaging a goal every 53 minutes she played, according to the club. During their path to the championship, she also had three goals in two playoff games, including the winning goal against FC Miami City on the road in the quarterfinal.
On Friday, the USL W League announced that Andrews won the Player of the Year award for the regular season after receiving the most votes from the league's staff and coaches. Minnesota Aurora's Langdok finished second in weighted voting and received the most fan votes, according to the league. She was also the only defender nominated for the award.
The team's goalkeeper, Sydney Martinez, became the first player across the Tormenta FC's three teams to win the Golden Glove award. During the regular season, Martinez made 36 saves in 11 games, had 0.58 goals against average, and had a save percentage of 85.7, according to the team.
South Georgia reached the USL W League playoffs after finishing the regular season with a 7-1-4 record and took on FC Miami City in the opening round, which they won 1-0. In the semifinals, they beat Greenville Liberty SC 4-1, thanks in part to Andrews scoring two goals in the second half.
The Tormenta FC's W League team is the first in the club to reach a USL finals match, according to a club official.
While the Aurora will be going up against two of the best players in the USL W League, they weren't the team's main focus during practice and training, according to team captain Langdok.
"Honestly, we focused a little bit on what they bring, individual players that they may have, certain tendencies, but overall, we’re more focused on how we fit into that and how we bring our style of play against that and I think our road to this point has prepared us for this," she explained. "We played two really good teams the past two games and I think that sets us up well for this one."
For some South Georgia players, Saturday's game will have the largest crowd that they've ever played in and will "be an awesome matchup," according to Tormenta FC head coach Jim Robbins.
"At some Division I programs, these girls only get to play in front of their parents," he said on Tuesday during a press conference. "For some of them, Saturday will be the biggest crowd they'll ever play in front of in their life. We are appreciating the moment."
Robbins added that they'll begin video analysis of the Aurora FC "in the next day," and that Minnesota has "good goalkeeping and like to play direct."
'For some of them, Saturday will be the biggest crowd they'll ever play in front of in their life'
South Georgia midfielder Emily Burke said on Tuesday that TCO Stadium's environment will be "amazing."
"Being in that sort of environment with so many supporters of women's soccer will be very cool," she said. "We might be nervous the first few minutes but after that, we'll be locked in."
For those wanting to watch the Aurora in person, there's bad news. The team announced that they had sold all 6,200 tickets within 24 hours of sales opening, a new record. The good news is this will be Minnesota's third-straight, sold-out maximum capacity game. So far this season, the Aurora FC has averaged about 5,500 fans per game, which would be better than some clubs in the National Women's Soccer League.
Forward Morgan Turner said during Friday's media availability that she definitely did not anticipate the fan and community response to the club in its inaugural season.
"I knew we were going to have really great facilities, awesome coaches and a great but I had no idea that it would become this," she said.
The Maple Grove native added that many of her friends have told her that they can't come out to the game because of how quickly tickets sold out. She added that it's been special having friends and family come out to games throughout the season.
“I really feel like playing for this team is something bigger than all of us on the field and I think just growing soccer and women’s soccer in Minnesota, I think, has just been an incredible experience so I feel like winning that trophy would just be an incredible thing for everyone involved," she said.
The championship match will be live-streamed on Elevensports.com.
"We’ve worked super hard to get to this point, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, so to be able to play the championship at home in front of our amazing fans, we’re just really excited for the opportunity," head coach Nicole Lukic said.
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