At historic opener, Minnesota Aurora battle to a draw before sellout crowd

First game for the Minnesota Aurora women's soccer team
Minnesota Aurora players celebrate a goal by Shelby Hopeau against the Green Bay Glory during the second half of a USL W soccer game Thursday at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minn. It was the first game for the Minnesota Aurora franchise; the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

With a sellout crowd of more than 5,000 fans cheering them on, the Minnesota Aurora women’s soccer team played to a 1-1 draw with the Green Bay Glory on Thursday night in Eagan, in the franchise’s first game.

Shelby Hopeau scored the Aurora's goal at the 52-minute mark of the USL W League game at TCO Stadium. The Glory tied it up later in the second half.

A soccer goalkeeper tips a shot away from the goal
Minnesota Aurora goalkeeper Sarah Fuller tips a Green Bay shot away from the goal during the first half of a USL W soccer game on Thursday at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minn. It was the Aurora's first-ever game, played before more than 5,000 fans.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

The Aurora's next game is next Thursday, June 2, at Kaw Valley FC in Kansas City, Mo. They'll stay on the road for a game against the St. Louis Lions on June 5.

Minnesota Aurora is one of 44 USL W League in 20 states.

Aurora head coach Nicole Lukic joined Minnesota Now host Cathy Wurzer on Thursday before the game to talk about the opening season.

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full conversation using the audio player above.

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What stands out to you about this group of women?

I think just their passion for soccer and their excitement to represent Minnesota in the USL W League has been really infectious. They're a group that really wants to learn and be the best that they can as a team and grow as individuals. The coaching staff has really enjoyed working with them this far.

First game for the Minnesota Aurora women's soccer team
Fans wave Minnesota Aurora scarves and jingle their keys during a corner kick in the second half.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

One name on the roster in particular really stands out to me, Sarah Fuller. What does it mean to have players like Sarah joining the team?

First game for the Minnesota Aurora women's soccer team
Minnesota Aurora midfielder Sangmin Cha (left) steals the ball from a Green Bay Glory player during the first half of a USL W soccer game Thursday at TCO Stadium in Eagan, Minn.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Sarah has been fantastic. She's a role model for her teammates, both on and off the field. Most recently, we just picked our captains to go into the season and she was named one of them. That tells you right there that she's already taking on this leadership role, and really mentoring players in different roles. She's been a spokesperson for the club, and she understands what we're trying to build in Minnesota.

What does it take to put a team like this together? What were you looking for when you first started out?

In December, as a staff, we had zero players on the roster. We really had to come together and talk about how we wanted to play and what types of players we thought we wanted to recruit, to help play the style play that we wanted to play. It was a lot of reaching out and working our connections. We had two open tryouts just trying to pick the best players, whether it was from the tryouts or film, or speaking with coaches that we trusted, to bring together a group that we thought would work well together.

How would you describe your style?

Two soccer players fight for control of the ball during a game
Minnesota Aurora forward Jill Bennett (left) fights for control of the ball with a Green Bay Glory player during the first half.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

We really want to be an attacking team, something that creates a lot of energy. We want fans to be excited and proud to come to our games, we want to score a lot of goals, we want to be able to keep possession and be confident on the ball. And at the same time, even though we will defend right, we still want to be almost attacking when we're defending. We're very hungry to get the ball back and go at our opponent.

What kind of support have you gotten to get this off the ground?

The community support has been fantastic. It's been like nothing else I've really seen or been involved with, quite honestly. Whether we are walking around, people will wear sweatshirts or want to talk and take photos with the team. We have had some merchandise shops completely sell out. It's just been crazy awesome to see all the support.

How'd you feel when you heard the news about the equal pay deal for U.S. Women’s Soccer?

First game for the Minnesota Aurora women's soccer team
Minnesota Aurora defender Mariah Nguyen heads the ball during the second half.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

It has been a long time coming. It's been a lot of hard work by everybody involved with that. It was really encouraging and it's coming out of a time where the women's game is really gaining momentum. We have started to see women's game on TV, more sellouts and crowds, so I think it makes sense that it finally happened. Even Minnesota Aurora, you can feel it.