The Win Moves Mankato to Second in Standings as the Race Heats Up for the Northern Conference
Published Jun 17, 2021
Photo Credit: Mankato United Media; Rustin Luedtke


Mankato United Soccer Club hosted Rochester United FC in the second-leg of the inaugural Highway 14 Cup Wednesday night. Both teams entered the WPSL in 2019 as expansion teams and have just an hour drive separating the two along Highway 14. Mankato finished the 2019 season tied for first with Salvo SC while holding a 6-1-3 record - their matches with Rochester were never separated by more than a goal.


In the first leg of the cup, played just seven days before on June 9, both sides earned a point with the 2-2 draw. The cup was created to be played over two legs, awarding the team with highest cumulative results between the two matches each season. With the first showing resulting in a draw, Wednesday’s leg made for a winner-take-all for whomever won the match.


Rochester held most of the control during the first half and set the tone with an early opportunity in the 2’ minute as winger Nicole Henry made way to a strong goal-scoring position, but a hard touch allowed Mankato goalkeeper, Mackenzie Rath, to make the save – it was the first of many highlights in the penalty area for Mankato.


Mankato, in contrast, struggled more offensively and couldn’t hold possession beyond the first pass while being unable to move the ball forward. However, in the 12’ minute, a break came for the Mankato side as forward, McKenna Buisman, chased a ball towards the corner of Rochester’s 18-yard-box while drawing goalkeeper, Georgia Katsonouri, out of her box who tried to close down on the ball but was only able to get a piece of it. Buisman capitalized on the deflection to put Mankato up 1-0 – making for Mankato’s best chance of the half.


Moments later in the 14minute, Rochester nearly saw a repeat of the earlier goal as Katsonouri left the penalty area again to end Mankato’s attack, but this time Mankato came in too harshly, resulting in a goal kick. For the remaining 30 minutes of the half, Rochester had all the offensive pressure, but Mankato’s defensive backline was able to hold the lead while forcing several blocks to keep Rochester out of the net.


In the 19minute Rochester winger, Kara Gavaghan, used her speed to cut in behind the Mankato defense as she sent a nice cross into their offensive third but was blocked before reaching the keeper. An even bigger block came right on the goal line in the 29’ minute as Mankato midfielder, Allison Williams, cleared a shot from crossing the line after Rath deflected a ball off a Rochester cross.


Rochester’s Gwen Mummert had their final two chances of the half, shooting just wide of the post and over the crossbar in the 44th and 45th minutes – leaving the score at 1-0. Despite holding the lead, Mankato’s head coach, Tudo Flintham, saw how difficult his team struggled in the first 45’.


I just don’t think we played very well,” Flintham said. “The women took a bad first half, took the messages from halftime, and I think at least came in with a bit more intensity in the second half.


For the first ten minutes of the second half, Mankato created chance after chance, and Rochester had trouble getting the ball out of their defensive half. Once their offensive intensity calmed down, second-half Mankato goalkeeper substitute, Claire Hemstock, took center stage while making seven saves – three of which coming between the 61’ and 63’ minutes.


In the 61’ minute, Hemstock denied Rochester’s opportunity with a driving save, sending the ball just wide of the post. Hemstock’s biggest save of the night came just a moment later as she stopped Rochester’s Shaelyn Robertson clean break on goal with a quick move with her right glove to hold Mankato’s lead.


Mankato’s defense helped Hemstock stop another Rochester opportunity in the 65minute as defender, Taylor Lange, halted the counter breakaway, stemming from an errant Mankato pass. It could have easily been two or three goals scored by Rochester in a span of just five minutes but rather, it was Mankato that got on the scoreboard as Dakota Wendell entered the game to put the home side up by two in the 67’.


A short corner from Mankato turned into a cross towards goal where Rochester defender, Natalee Henry, saw the ball coming in, but turned away from it to allow the keeper to grab the ball without the knowledge of a Mankato player behind her. Mankato passed the ball in front of the goalkeeper’s box as Wendell reached the end of it, scoring a point-blank goal to increase their lead by one.


In the final 20 minutes, with a two-goal lead, Mankato continued to press offensively to keep their second-half, high intensity attack strategy going – giving Rochester more clear attempts to score on their own.


Rochester’s best attempt came in the 84’ minute while having a 3-on-1 against the Mankato defense, however, the final pass into the center of the penalty area saw the Mankato defense getting a slight touch to send the ball off it’s intended course. When Rochester did get a chance away from defense, a strange bounce or a miss-hit of the ball sent the ball off course.


Soccer is a strange game sometimes. It’s a game that doesn’t always line up the winning team having the most statistics of a match – Rochester had the most corners, shots, shots on goal and possessed the ball more than their opponent yet still couldn’t capitalize on opportunities they created.


It was last moment defensive stands and great goalkeeping that gave Mankato a 2-0 clean sheet victory. Coach Flintham was open about their overall performance in his post-match press conference.


They [Rochester] helped us, they should have scored goals at the end of the day,” Flintham said. “I don’t think anyone can say they had their best game for us today.


For Rochester head coach, Charlie Foster, the misses on goal were tough but it doesn’t change the principles of the team and say they will recover from this match.


Soccer is a great teacher of life, and you have to learn to deal with setbacks,” Foster said. “People that can deal with setbacks the best can improve the most. I know that the next game we’ll convert the opportunities we missed.”


With last week’s first leg draw, Mankato not only won the match at hand, the victory also awarded them the Highway 14 Cup trophy and bragging rights until the 2022 WPSL season.


What’s Next

Mankato’s victory moved themselves ahead of Rochester for second place in the Northern Conference with seven points. Minnesota Thunder still hold the conference lead with nine points in four matches. Both the Thunder and Mankato have four matches remaining in the 2021 season, so Mankato will need the Thunder to slip up if they want a chance to win the conference.


Mankato plays two more home matches this week as they face Maplebrook Fury on Friday and Sunday welcome Dakota Fusion FC.


Rochester gets a chance to make up for missed mistakes next week, when they travel to Fire SC 98 on Wednesday June 23. Rochester sits in third place, with six points. They have three matches remaining this season.



   Author - Thomas Costello;  @1ThomasCostello (twitter)
   WPSL Contributor - Central Region