Defense is key in Cats’ season

Elia Powers

The Northwestern men’s soccer team had high hopes for a successful campaign last season — hopes that were dashed just a few weeks into the season.

An inexperienced squad hit with numerous early-season injuries led to last year’s disappointing 6-14 (2-3 Big Ten) season for the Wildcats — including a disastrous 1-12 start.

And that didn’t sit well with NU players.

“Last year was a big disappointment,” senior forward Jun Kim said. “At the start of the year we had high expectations with talented players. But it didn’t go our way in the early part. We started to pick up our game — the chemistry was there and we just started to play.”

A 5-2 finish to the season — coupled with NU’s first ever Big Ten tournament victory, a win over Wisconsin — gave players hope that the Cats could kick the losing habit.

NU ended its season with a loss in the tournament to No. 1 Indiana, the eventual NCAA champions. But the Cats are still riding high after a strong end to a tough year.

“Our start was inexcusable and everyone was disheartened in the middle of the season,” senior midfielder Brandon Swalve said. “But it was great to end on a high.”

When the team struggled on offense midway through the season, coach Michael Kunert resorted to playing Kim as the only forward and moving everyone else back to midfield and defense.

Kunert felt NU needed more defense to keep the team close in games, Kim said.

“Next year we can get more support from midfield and defense, so forwards can attack,” Kim said.

NU returns three forwards and six midfielders from a team that started all 22 players at least once last season.

Pacing the Cats’ attack is Kim, who led the team with five goals and four assists. Returning seniors Nick Spoerke and Swalve will lend experience to the Cats’ defense and midfield, respectively.

The rest of the midfield will be anchored by sophomores Paul Elkins and Steven Jedlinsky.

While the offense should improve from last season, the Cats realize that defense is key to their success.

“The defense is going to be the best ever in Northwestern soccer history,” Kim said. “It’ll be our strength and it has been for years.”

The departure of goalkeeper Matt Keeler, who had 98 saves and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, is a major loss.

The Cats will rely on senior Chris Berlin, who has little game experience at NU, to stop opponents next year. The players know Berlin has big shoes to fill.

“Keely will be irreplaceable,” Swalve said. “Berlin can do the job, but confidence will be a question. If he plays well, we can do well.”

In addition, senior forward Jon Cantwell—who was injured all year but was the Cats’ leading scorer in 1998 — will not return to the team.

“If we don’t get to double-digit wins, it’ll be a disappointment,” Swalve said. “We are shooting for third place in the conference and 14 or 15 wins. The NCAA tournament is not out of the picture.”