It was supposed to be a blowout.
Or at least that’s what should have been expected when the Northwestern men’s soccer team (5-7, 0-3 Big Ten) rolled into Bloomington, Ind., on Sunday.
But the Wildcats surprised the No. 4 Hoosiers (9-1-2, 5-0), playing shutout ball with them in the second half of a 1-0 loss.
“Again, we continue to compete against these Big Ten teams,” NU coach Tim Lenahan said. “Eventually, we’re going to come out on the other side one of these days. We were able to make it a one- or two-play game.”
Indiana’s lone goal came early in the first half when the Hoosiers attack streaked down the left side. Josh Reiher connected on a ball deflected off Ned Grabavoy’s foot. Pat Noonan and Grabavoy were credited with the assists.
NU’s defense proved to be effective against the typically overpowering Indiana offense. The Cats allowed nine shots on goal in the first half and 11 in the second.
According to captain Steve Jedlinski, the key to NU’s defensive success was that unlike previous seasons, the Cats came into the Indiana matchup with a clear game plan.
“We wanted to dictate the way they played the game,” Jedlinski said. “We took the fire out of their game, made them slow the pace of the game down.”
Lenahan said he was pleased with the play of his defenders, especially freshman Adrian Atkinson, who made his first career start on Sunday.
In the net, NU goalkeeper J.D. Martin kept the game close, notching eight saves on the afternoon. Martin’s 58 saves leads the Big Ten.
Offensively, the Cats were overmatched in the first half with only two shots. But NU threatened to tie late in the second half, forcing three straight corner kicks and tallying four shots.
“They made the most of their chances and we didn’t make the most of ours,” Jedlinski said. “It pretty much came down to them finishing their opportunities — we didn’t.”
The Hoosiers were able to pull off the win despite playing on one day’s rest and losing two of their starters. Defender John Swann missed the match after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season in Indiana’s 5-1 win against Wisconsin on Friday. Midfielder Danny O’Rourke was injured during Sunday’s warmups.
“They seemed a little tired toward the end,” Lenahan said. “They were missing a couple key players, but they’re replacing those guys with high school All-Americans and fourth-year juniors.”
Indiana’s win puts them at the top of the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are 19-0 all-time against the Cats.
NU’s strong performance in Sunday’s loss is another instance of the squad stepping up its play against Top 25 teams. NU has lost by just one goal to three of its four ranked opponents.
Although Lenahan does not believe in moral victories, he said the Cats’ inspired play against what he considers favorites for the national title is a “first step” to continued success in the Big Ten.
“We’re battling, but there’s no celebrating on the bus since we lost 1-0,” he said. “Good competition brings out the best in you.”