by Darren Hellwege
*Correction: This version of the story corrects the spelling of Bryan Blitz.
Through the first two games of this season with a young team, the Missouri Tigers showed some skill, but there remained a question: Is this a team that has the toughness for which Coach Bryan Blitz’s Tiger teams have become known in grabbing Big 12 championships in 2008 and 2009?
That question was answered quite resoundingly in the affirmative Friday night as the Tigers pulled off a major upset, beating the Ohio State Buckeyes 1-0 on a goal by Dominique Richardson in the 50th minute. The Buckeyes came into the game ranked No. 7 in the nation by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. It was the Bucks’ first loss after victories over Xavier and Radford. The win boosts Mizzou to 2-1.
Blitz said preparation was key in the win. “We had a great week of practice,” he told the media after the match. “They came out Wednesday from six to eight and we knew they’d come to play. The way we practice is the way we play.”
“We knew we needed to come out and dictate our rhythm, our pressing style. We like to call it Ninety Minutes of Heck,” he said, in a reference to the old Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team’s famed “Forty Minutes of Hell.”
The Tigers were bolstered by strong play by the defense and in particular an outstanding match from goalkeeper McKenzie Sauerwein. Ohio State kept the pressure on all night long, led by last year’s Big Ten offensive player of the year Paige Maxwell. Maxwell seemed to be everywhere but could never quite find the way to get the ball past Sauerwein. A series of three dynamic saves in the first half, including two within a minute, had to frustrate the OSU strikers.
Missouri has tended to switch back and forth between Sauerwein and freshman Caroline Stanley between the pipes, but Blitz said Sauerwein had an excellent week of practice and earned the start. At halftime he and goalkeepers coach Shaunna Daugherty agreed to “stay with the hot hand” and leave Sauerwein in.
Perhaps the biggest change in tonight’s match from the previous game against Eastern Illinois was an increased physicality from the Tigers. While Mizzou teams have played with a lot of muscle in past years, this team had seemed a little hesitant. But against Ohio State, the team looked ready to play the tough-as-nails brand of soccer Mizzou fans have grown to love.
“We lost a lot of that with the group that graduated last year,” said senior forward Kendra Collins. “The underclassmen are starting to understand the game MU plays. We don’t back off…we make the other team back off.”
The physical play started early and established the tone that the Tigers weren’t going to be intimidated by a team that reached the NCAA Final Four last season. Richardson said, “There was a foul in the first minute and it really set the tone. We practiced like that, we don’t back down, even in practice.”
With Mizzou’s underdog role and the great saves by Sauerwein, the Tigers seemed quite satisfied going into halftime with a scoreless tie.
After the recess things changed dramatically. An extended rush by the Tiger attack finished with a corner kick by Richardson, who blasted a shot that was tipped by a Buckeyes defender then zipped past OSU goalkeeper Katie Baumgardner. It was Richardson’s first goal of the year and continues an interesting trend: MU has six goals this season, each scored by a different player.
Blitz, as he has often done in the past, noted that when the Tigers lead in fouls, they usually win the game. On this night, they did that, drawing 22 fouls compared to nine fouls for the visitors from Columbus. The Tigers also drew three yellow cards, OSU received two cautions from Fernando Galvan’s officiating crew. Several times during the match Galvan stopped action to warn players and keep the game from getting too nasty.
Blitz told his team afterwards that, as big as this win was, they should celebrate only until midnight. With the dawn of the new day, he said, they should focus on their next challenge, another team from the Big Ten, the Purdue Boilermakers who come to Walton Stadium Sunday for a 1 p.m. start.
“It’s a big win for where we’re at,” the Tiger coach said, “but not if we don’t follow it up.”