Gusts’ Of Offense Push Cats Past Losing Streak With Victory (Men’s Soccer)

By Ben LarrisonThe Daily Northwestern

There are some downsides to playing on the shores of Lake Michigan.

At Wednesday’s game between Northwestern and Valparaiso, strong left-to-right winds forced the ball to move in all sorts of crazy directions. But the Wildcats fought through the gusts for a 4-2 victory over Valparaiso in front of a sparse but supportive crowd at a blustery Lakeside Field.

“It was difficult the whole game dealing with (the wind),” Blades said, “but we got the win, so it was good.”

NU (9-3) stayed on the attack for the first 45 minutes, with the ball rarely even entering the Cats’ end. The wind was a definite factor, as it was blowing toward the Valparaiso (6-5) goal the entire first half. NU had an 11-1 advantage in shots in the first and took nine first-half corners compared to Valparaiso’s zero.

The Cats broke through in the 23rd minute, when junior Drew Ratner knocked in the rebound off a David Roth free kick from just outside the box to give NU a 1-0 lead.

Ten minutes later, the Cats struck again. Freshman Eamon O’Neill found classmate Mark Blades on a breakaway in the 33rd minute. Blades faked left, hopped over the sliding keeper, and tapped the ball into the empty net for the first score of his career. It gave NU a two-goal lead it would take into halftime.

“It was almost like we were playing a goal down (in the first half)” Lenahan said, adding, “We were trying to take advantage of the wind.”

Unlike Valparaiso, NU was able to pressure its opponent while playing into the wind, keeping the ball on the ground. In the 56th minute, senior Brad North hit Roth with a pass deep into the Valparaiso box, but freshman keeper Ryan Schwarz made the save. A few minutes later, freshman Pat Coleman was unable to convert on a good shot.

As the second half wore on and the Valparaiso push increased, the Cats incorporated more counter-attack plays into their offense. North faked out two defenders in the 64th minute but had a shot deflected. In the 69th minute, Roth seemed to be on a breakaway when a scuffle for the ball with a Valparaiso player resulted in a yellow card the NU junior.

The Cats avenged the card just a minute later, when a North pass across the box found freshman Geoff Fallon, who fired it past Schwartz to give NU a 3-0 advantage.

Valparaiso charged again after the goal, but another Cats counter-attack score ended the push. Roth, all alone with the Valparaiso keeper, knocked a Fallon pass by Schwarz in the 75th minute for NU’s fourth goal of the game, a season high.

Even with the big lead, the Cats knew that they couldn’t settle down with the winds still blowing.

“We really would have liked to score a few more goals in the first half,” Blades said. “We would have been able to relax more.”

Valparaiso finally found the net in the 81st minute, when a Andrew Stewart shot off a corner into the box slipped by Briley and cut the NU lead to three. They scored again just seven minutes later in the 88th minute, Jeremy Stacy used the wind to fly a long cross over the reach of the NU keeper and made it a 4-2 game. Despite the late charge, the Cats held on for the victory.

“I was very nervous the whole game until the final whistle blew,” Lenahan said. “Even at 4-0.”

Reach Ben Larrison at [email protected]