Jim Souhan
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A bunch of soccer fans met in a beer garden and invented a women's soccer team that would be run by women and champion equality and equity.

The story didn't have to get any better than that.

But it has.

The Minnesota Aurora are 8-0 this season, having outscored opponents 39-3. On Saturday, they defeated Bavarian United 5-1 in front of 6,423 fans at the Vikings' TCO Stadium. They went 13-1-1 last year in their inaugural season, with their only loss coming in the USL W League championship game.

Credit should go to team president and founder Andrea Yoch, her partners and the Vikings for use of the stadium.

But there is one person who took an upstart pre-professional team that didn't know where it would find players and turned it into a dynamo: coach Nicole Lukic.

Last summer, Lukic was named the USL W Coach of the Year. Last fall, she had her duties expanded, adding the title of "sporting director."

Monday, she ran the team through practice, then sat on one of the stadium's patios in the bright sun, occasionally rubbing the scar from the lower-leg injury she suffered while playing for Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Yoch has noted that Lukic often refers to "The Aurora Way." Lukic doesn't use the term casually.

"I think more than anything, the Aurora Way is a mind-set," she said. "It really has a lot to do with who we're recruiting to be on this team. Every single player, every single coach, every single person on the medical staff, they want to be the best at what they do every single day, in their profession and as a human being.

"On the field, in terms of playing style — and probably related to life, too — I think the Aurora Way is that we're always attacking. Even when we don't have the ball, we're attacking space or minimizing the opponent's space. I think we're seeing a lot of goals because of that."

In almost no time, the Aurora have gone from scribbles on beer-hall napkins to a model franchise for women's and minor league sports. They are good and entertaining, and they attracted their audience before they ever scored a goal by promoting themselves as an inclusive franchise — and by brilliantly marketing themselves.

"Am I surprised by all of the success?" Lukic said. "I would say yes and no. When we started building it as a coaching staff last year, that's what we were pitching — once we knew we were going to be here, why not win? Let's play a really attractive and entertaining style of soccer that is going to keep bringing people back.

"Then, once I saw last January how much gear people were buying, then I was like, 'OK, this is going to bring in thousands of people. Then when we sold out our first game ever, that's when this all became very real."

Lukic recruits players ranging from high school standouts to college stars. She doesn't have them long enough to transform skill sets, so she promotes team philosophies. "We don't have time to make it perfect," she said. "We really try to focus on our strengths and not dwell on our weaknesses, because we might not have time to work those kinks out. That's a big reason we play the style we do, because it's easy to get everybody on the same page.

"I think we're really good at being compact defensively and transitioning defending high up the field when we lose it. For me, it's easy to get everybody on the same page that's just work rate and effort and mental energy."

Lukic also is the Twin Cities Rush Soccer Club director of operations and scouts for the U.S. women's national team.

Monday, she praised the many men who have helped her throughout her playing and coaching career. "But this is a dream come true," she said. "When I saw this job description and found out that it was women-led, I was just immediately drawn to it. I'm just so grateful that they chose me to start the foundation, on the field, with the Aurora."