Big Ten basement up for grabs this weekend (Men’s Soccer)

Kelvin Ma

It’s business as usual for the Northwestern men’s soccer team (7-8, 0-3 Big Ten) as it attempts to get out of the Big Ten basement.

The Wildcats, in search of their first conference win since 1999, face Big Ten rival Michigan (5-6-1, 1-3) on Sunday at Lakeside Field in the final match of a three-game homestand.

Both teams are nearly identical on paper and match up well together. While Michigan has excelled offensively — the Wolverines have scored 31 times and have outshot opponents 182-163 — the Cats have one of the Big Ten’s best defenses, with goalkeeper J.D. Martin boasting a 1.18 goals-against average.

“They’re a little more high-powered than we are, and they want an open game,” NU coach Tim Lenahan said. “Again, we want to control the tempo. We don’t want a wide-open game and to play into their hands.

“We’re going to make it a one- or two-play game and hope we make those plays.”

The Cats have done a good job controlling the pace of the game this season, holding opponents to 18 goals on 165 shots, nine fewer than at this point last season. Martin’s six shutouts this year — with four games remaining — have been good enough for second in the Big Ten and the most all-time in NU history in a single season.

The defense will have a tough job keeping an eye on the Wolverines’ offense, which is led by Mychal Turpin and Knox Cameron. Turpin leads Michigan with nine goals and three assists, putting him third in the Big Ten in scoring. Cameron, who has represented the United States six times this year as a member of the Under-20 National Team, has eight goals and three assists.

“We defend pretty well, so we’ll do what we always do,” Lenahan said. “We’ll make sure we always know where they are. We want to keep those guys from doing too much to us.”

The Cats’ offense, which is powered by a strong defense, will have a chance against a Michigan defense that has given up an average of 2.6 goals per game.

Leading the charge from the back for NU are Steve Jedlinski and Paul Elkins, who both have three assists, and Jaro Pylypczak, who has two goals.

Although the offense has not been as successful as the defense, Lenahan said his corps of young talent is steadily improving.

“It takes time to develop an attack,” he said. “As the season goes on, you get better offensively, and the defense becomes a staple.”

NU is looking to ride momentum from its past two games, in which it has outscored opponents 5-0, with all goals coming from freshmen. Tito Lara scored twice in Tuesday’s match against Wisconsin-Green Bay and now leads the Big Ten in game-winning goals.

Michigan is coming off its first conference win of the season against Wisconsin but will face Illinois-Chicago — a team that beat NU 3-1 last week — on Friday before coming to Evanston.

With the end of the season approaching, the Cats’ next three conference matches against Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State are must-wins to secure a favorable seed in the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan (5-6-1, 1-3 Big Ten) at NU (7-8, 0-3)

2 p.m., Sunday

Lakeside Field