All these months later, Maya Hansen still remembers how it felt to lose the USL W League championship game last summer. That 2-1 defeat made the Minnesota Aurora a more aggressive team this season, one determined to score as many goals as possible.
Yet Hansen, an Aurora forward, wasn't expecting her team to rack up numbers not often seen in her sport. Heading into Wednesday's home game against the Chicago Dutch Lions, the Aurora have outscored opponents 20-0 while compiling a 4-0 record.
That includes margins of 10-0, 5-0 and 4-0, with the only tight outcome — Sunday's 1-0 victory at Rochester — coming on a day when some starters rested.
The Aurora wasted no time in integrating several new players, quickly becoming a team that augments its dynamic offense with a lockdown defense. They enter Wednesday's game on quite a roll, with that championship-game loss to South Georgia Tormenta FC the only defeat in the franchise's 19-game history.
"We have a little bit of a bitter taste in our mouth,'' said Hansen, who leads the team with six goals. "We're really proud of how we grew last year, but it stunk to end the way we did.
"That put a lot of drive in us and stopped us from being complacent. We're really pushing to get beyond where we were last year.''
The USL W League season is compact, with the Aurora already nearing the halfway point of a 12-game schedule leading toward the playoffs in early July. A strong start is essential to any team with championship hopes, and the Aurora laid the groundwork for that before the first game.
Coach Nicole Lukic carefully vetted new players to ensure they would be an immediate fit. The staff planned off-the-field activities to build team bonds. The result, Hansen said, is a team full of "quality players and quality people'' whose play reflects their closeness.
The Aurora spent their first two to three weeks of practice working on team defense, crafting an effective press and focusing on how to win the ball back quickly after turning it over. Lukic said their goal production is rooted in their ability to transition swiftly between defense and offense, make good reads and get creative.
Goalkeeper Amanda Poorbaugh hasn't had to stop many shots, but she's still an integral part of the action. An Aurora newcomer who plays at Penn State, Poorbaugh won praise from Lukic and Hansen for her communication and her ability to distribute the ball. Poorbaugh sees the game well and can spark the attack by accurately delivering the ball to teammates all over the field.
"Amanda has a really gifted skill set with her feet,'' Lukic said. "In these games where we're scoring a lot of goals, having her be part of our distribution and build out from the back has been really crucial. The vision that she has to help us create, it's really unique for a goalkeeper at this level.''
Hansen, of Savage, led South Dakota State with 11 goals last fall. She did extra drills after spring practices to prepare for her second season with the Aurora, working on shot placement.
That's put her among the leading scorers in the USL W League. But the Aurora have gotten goals from 11 players, another big plus for a group with designs on a championship.
Last year wasn't the only time Hansen has been in a situation where a game — or a season — could have been different with one more goal. Those memories will keep her and her team pushing to score early and often.
"It's a big confidence booster,'' she said. "Sometimes, you see other teams' scores, and you say, 'Oh, my gosh, they scored 10 goals.' We know if we're on top of our game, we can do that, too.''
Playoff dates set
The USL W League has announced the dates for its newly expanded playoffs, which grew as the league expanded to 65 teams this season. The field of 16 will include the top team in each of the 10 divisions, plus the second-place teams from the Metropolitan and NorCal divisions and four wild cards. Playoffs begin with the round of 16 and quarterfinals on July 6 and 9, followed by semifinals July 14-16 and finals July 21-23.
Aurora improve to 5-0
The Minnesota Aurora remained unbeaten but allowed their first goal of the season in a 6-1 USL W League victory over the Chicago Dutch Lions in front of 4,874 at TCO Performance Center in Eagan on Wednesday. Hannah Adler scored three goals for the Aurora, who are 5-0 and have outscored opponents 26-1.