Men's Soccer: After second overtime loss, Lenahan looks to veteran players
October 24, 2012
Northwestern's last non-conference match of the season was an unwelcome case of deja vu.
NU (10-4-2) played against the wind and traded possession with Northern Illinois (4-8-3) throughout the match's scrappy first half before opening up in the second period to create multiple close scoring chances at Lakeside Field on Wednesday night.
Although it looked like the Wildcats were gaining momentum going into overtime, Northern Illinois' Charlie Oliver sent a shot past Tyler Miller's dive into the top left corner of the net in the first minute of extra time and handed NU a 1-0 loss.
Oliver's goal gave the Cats their second overtime loss in a row at home, after a hard-fought loss to Penn State on Sunday afternoon.
Wednesday night's repeat ending left coach Tim Lenahan and his players disappointed in the team's playmaking abilities.
"If every game you have zero on the scoreboard and you play 110 minutes and you have winds out here that play havoc, you’re going to be in trouble," Lenahan said. "It's not that defensively we didn't do what we needed to do … Northern Illinois played very well and they made a play. Just like on Sunday, they made a play. We didn't make a play."
Lenahan also noted how detrimental the team's fourth loss for the season is to the team's chances to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
"Good news is we still will be back here two weeks from today for the Big Ten Tournament," Lenahan said. "But this is a very damaging loss; we are very much removed from an at-large bid right now."
Throughout the game's first half, senior forward Chris Ritter, junior midfielder Lepe Seetane and freshman forward Joey Calistri consistently found themselves up against Northern Illinois' suffocating defense. NU's forwards were forced to spend much of the period behind the half-mark, supporting their own defense.
When the Cats were able to open the game offensively in the second half and create more opportunities, they had trouble connecting passes and flubbed opportunities in the box. The team also maintained possession for most of the half, despite ending regular play with an equal amount of shots taken, six, to Northern Illinois. NU was also up against Northern Illinois' senior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey, who has 31 career shutouts.
Still, Calistri said NU could have challenged Godsey more. The keeper ended the game with three saves.
"In the second half, we were going with the wind, we were on them a lot, and we created some decent chances," Calistri said. "But in the final third … it just wasn't as clean as it had to be, and that was disappointing."
Despite solid ball control — on display tonight again in the midfield – NU has struggled with converting opportunities in opponents' territories for a large part of the season.
But Lenahan emphasized the need to improve playmaking as a complete package.
"You know, making plays is not necessarily just shooting and scoring," Lenahan said. "It's being able to complete passes, being able to get them on the ends of corner kicks or set pieces and running the proper set pieces."
Lenahan placed responsibility on the team's veteran players, who he said needed to step up Wednesday night. He also commended freshman midfielder Cole Missimo, who sprinted the near sideline all night.
Missimo made smart passes and efficient challenges throughout the night and looked to be the busiest player on the field.
"I thought Cole Missimo did a great job tonight trying to make a play, but I was a little disappointed in our veteran group," Lenahan said. "This is the kind of game where they have to carry the team a little bit and ... we only had one guy trying to make a play tonight. That was Cole."
Lenahan said he has long since stopped "micromanaging" the team from the sidelines.
Looking ahead to the Cats' final two games of the season, conference matches against Wisconsin and Indiana, Lenahan said he will continue to expect NU's older players to take responsibility for the team.
"We're going to challenge our veteran group … to say hey, this is our time. This is your time," Lenahan said. "But the difference between being a Big Ten champion or an Elite Eight team, as some of the past teams have been, is making plays. And we've got a find a way to make plays."