Goal of successful season remains despite 0-7 start

If the Northwestern men’s soccer team was a racehorse, he would give a bettor an ulcer.

After opening last season losing six in a row, the Wildcats again have been slow out of the gate this fall, limping to a dubious 0-7 record.

But veteran coach Michael Kunert sees a little deeper. He understands that a poor start doesn’t always mean a poor season. Especially for this team.

“In the last few years we’ve always come back halfway through the season,” Kunert said. “I just didn’t want to go through this again. I wish we would have turned this around a lot earlier.”

The Cats must forget early season blowout losses to Eastern Illinois and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as consecutive shutout defeats to Ohio State and Marquette. NU’s most recent loss came at home Friday against Northern Illinois, which edged them 3-2.

An inexperienced offense has produced only seven goals in as many games. And an unstable defense has allowed the opposition more shots-on-goal than NU has had in each contest.

Add to this the early season injury to senior Brandon Swalve, who recently recovered from a sprained ankle, and the loss of graduated All-Big Ten goalkeeper Matt Keeler, and the team’s travails come into focus.

“We have players in there who don’t know what it takes to win against this level of competition,” Kunert said. “Everyone needs to step it up. Right now we just aren’t sharp enough.”

Said senior goalkeeper Chris Berlin: “No one wanted to start out like this. We’d hate to continue this trend.”

The Cats, with 10 upperclassmen on the roster, are as talented as last year’s squad that posted NU’s first multiple-win Big Ten season, Kunert said. But the team hasn’t converted on opportunities or shown the composure the coach had hoped for.

Senior defenders Nick Spoerke and Paul Van Huysen have anchored the team as captains and senior forward Jun Kim, with two goals, is starting to find the net — but NU is still in desperate need for more output.

“We had a short preseason and haven’t had much time,” Berlin said. “Having Brandon back is key for the midfield. We have experience and good leaders on the field.”

But for the Cats, kicking the losing habit may be more in their heads than in their legs.

“You win your first game and the jinx is off,” Kunert said. “It’s always the toughest thing to do. We haven’t pushed it over the hump yet.”

With only two games in the next 12 days, the Cats will focus their efforts on playing well in practice. And Kunert is adamant on setting the team on the right track before Wednesday’s game against De Paul and the remainder of the stretch run.

“We’re going to work them to death on Tuesday, ” Kunert said. “They need to realize that unless you give it everything you have, it’s not going to happen.”