Minnesota high school soccer’s Metrodome era draws to a close Thursday with four games that will crown boys’ and girls’ state champions in Class 2A and 1A.
In 2014 and 2015, the semifinal and championship games will move outside for the first time since 1987 because the Metrodome will be demolished early next year to make room for a new Vikings stadium.
The soccer matches will most likely be held on the St. Cloud State campus, according to the Minnesota State High School League. Some of the state quarterfinals are already played in St. Cloud. A look at Thursday’s championship matchups:
Eastview (15-3-1) vs. North St. Paul (19-1-1), 5:30 p.m.
Experience vs. inexperience: Eastview has become the face of boys’ soccer in the past three years. The Lightning is making a third consecutive appearance in the Class 2A championship game and playing for back-to-back titles. North St. Paul is making the program’s first appearance in the championship game. The fourth-seeded Polars advanced past undefeated Prairie Seeds Academy and Andover, which upset No. 1-ranked Minneapolis Southwest in the quarterfinals.
Supporting casts: The state championship will feature some of the state’s elite talent. The Oliver brothers, Tyler and Justin, lead North St. Paul. All-Metro honorees Sam Fluegge and Pierce Erickson have been at the front of Eastview’s program for the past several years. The talented pairs will draw so much defensive attention that the game could be won or lost by supporting casts. North St. Paul received goals from Tyler King and Adam Hildebrandt in its semifinal victory. Jack Teske’s shootout goal secured Eastview’s semifinal victory.
Lakeville North (15-2-3) vs. Minnetonka (16-2-2), 3 p.m.
Best defense against best defender: Lakeville North has become confident that one goal will lead to a win. The Panthers advanced to Thursday’s state title game with 1-0 victories in the first two rounds. Lakeville North’s defense is on a six-game shutout streak, not giving up a goal since Oct. 3. Minnetonka’s Elizabeth Endy, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year and arguably the state’s top defender, has moved to forward to create more scoring chances for the Skippers in the postseason. Her defense also has been relied on to help secure leads.
Late turnaround: A month ago, neither team in the championship game appeared primed for a title run. Minnetonka started the regular season 10-0-1, then went 1-2-1 and lost out on a Lake Conference championship. Lakeville North had a similar finish. After a 9-1-1 start, the Panthers were 1-1-2 in their final four regular-season game. The late slump cost them a chance at the South Suburban Conference title. Both teams, however, recovered nicely. Lakeville North’s five playoff victories have been by a total score of 11-0, Minnetonka’s by 16-2.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s (17-3-1) vs. Blake (17-3-1), 10 a.m.
Round three: The defending champion Red Knights face Blake for the title for a third consecutive year. Blake won the first meeting in 2011 is on a mission. “Not coming out on top last year was a little devastating,” Blake senior Lydia Sutton said. “This year that’s something we’re really striving for. We want to carry it all the way to the end. I think we have a very good shot.”
Contrasting styles: The Red Knights averaged 5.47 goals per game during the regular season, winning with unrelenting offensive pressure. Fixate on Ms. Soccer Kelly Pannek (25 goals) and Jordan Maddaus (20) or Aleksa Tataryn (18) will make you pay. Pannek said if Red Knights “play how we did” in a 5-1 semifinal victory, “I don’t think we should have a problem.” Conversely, few opponents reached the Bears’ net this season. Blake allowed just nine goals this season and more than one in a game just once. Goalkeeper Robyn Lipschultz has been tough to beat. Early this season these teams played to a 1-1 draw.
DAVID La VAQUE
Hill-Murray (13-4-3) vs. St. Paul Como Park (18-0-3), 12:30 p.m.
Fresh faces: St. Paul Como Park, the tournament’s top seed, is making just its second tournament appearance and first trip to the finals. Before this year, Hill-Murray had not won a playoff game since 2007. The Pioneers’ lone championship game appearance came in 1983.
Bombs-away vs. the beautiful game: Hill-Murray’s approach has been the equivalent of a boxer looking for a first-round knockout. The Pioneers attack from the outset, looking for a quick goal, hoping to play with the lead and force their opponent out of its game-plan early. Como Park uses more artistic tactics, playing off the talents of its culturally diverse players and their affection for the nuances of the game. Leading scorer Will Kidd (21 goals, 11 assists) is often heavily marked but that leaves openings for fellow forwards Seik Seik and Abdikarin Diriye.