In the five games before Penn State, Northwestern’s defense gave up just two goals. Last Friday, it took the Nittany Lions one game to double that total in a 4-1win over NU.
As the Wildcats (6-4-0) head into a break in the Big Ten schedule Wednesday against Loyola-Chicago (4-4-2), they look to recapture their defensive confidence.
NU coach Tim Lenahan said the Cats’ biggest problem was making mistakes in the box.
“We didn’t do the little things right (against Penn State),” Lenahan said. “We’re coming home after a tough trip. So we need to play well with a lot of energy.”
To make matters worse, the Cats never saw the field Sunday in their scheduled game against Princeton.
The match was postponed because of rain, and tentatively will be played on Oct. 23 in Princeton.
In the Penn State game, three of the Nittany Lions’ four goals scored were scored on headers, which Lenahan said was a result of lack of focus.
But Lenahan said he was satisfied with how the Cats attacked on the offensive end. NU outshot Penn State 12-10 and held an 8-6 advantage on corner kicks.
A bright spot offensively against the Nittany Lions came on Gerardo Alvarez’s goal in the 77th minute.
The junior midfielder, who has suffered from knee injuries, picked up his first points of the season. Alvarez was the Cats’ leading scorer in 2004 with 12 goals and nine assists.
“It was definitely a monkey off my back,” Alvarez said. “The first one is always the hardest.”
Before this season, Alvarez had started all 43 games of his career. This season he’s played in seven of the Cats’ 10 games, starting just three matches.
Alvarez said he feels a sense of urgency to get back on the field full-time, and he hasn’t changed his mentality in preparing for games. He added he continues to work hard with trainers and hopes it pays off in the second half of the season.
“We want to get Gerardo going and feeling confident,” Lenahan said. “We want him to add to the stretch run.”
After 10 games last season, the Cats were 6-3-1 and went on a streak of five games without a loss, propelling them to an NCAA tournament bid. The undefeated streak included a 2-1 victory against Loyola-Chicago.
The Ramblers are coming off a scoreless tie Sunday against Northern Illinois, which NU defeated 1-0 on Sept. 16.
Lenahan said this is an important game for NU, which has responded well after losses this season.
After back-to-back losses in early September, the Cats won their next two games. And two weeks ago, they won two consecutive games after a loss to Michigan in the opener of their Big Ten schedule.
Senior defender Brad Napper said the Cats have to correct errors on defense and utilize Friday’s disappointment positively in Wednesday’s game.
“It’s been a few days since the Penn State game, but we still have some anger saved up,” Napper said. “It needs to be taken out. Hopefully we come out (Wednesday) and get back on track.”
Reach Scott Duncan at [email protected]