NU Fights For Local Pride (Men’s Soccer)

Ben Larrison

By Ben LarrisonThe Daily Northwestern

The battle for Chicago soccer supremacy takes place tonight.

Northwestern will look to rebound from three losses in its last five games as it travels to Illinois-Chicago to take on the No. 17 Flames (9-1-2).

“This is probably the biggest game of the year so far,” junior David Roth said. “If we want to make it to the NCAA tournament, we’ve got to win this game.”

Having faltered in its other high-profile games, an NU victory at Illinois-Chicago would be crucial to a postseason bid. Losses to Penn State and Indiana have left the Wildcats (9-4) without a signature win, something tonight’s game could provide.

It won’t be easy against Illinois-Chicago, which has given up just one goal in its last six games. The Flames’ only slip-up in 2006 was a 1-0 defeat at Wisconsin, which also downed NU this season.

The Cats will be looking to their offense to step up against Illinois-Chicago’s potent defense.

“They know us, we know them,” NU coach Tim Lenahan said. “They’re a very attack-oriented team. Even though they’ve only give up four goals this year, they do that because they put the other team under pressure. It should be a good game.”

Thanks to positive ties with opposing coaching staffs, short traveling distances and pure scheduling convenience, the Cats have developed rivalries with Chicago schools like Depaul, Loyola and Illinois-Chicago. While NU defeated the former two earlier this season, the Flames look to be by far this year’s toughest local test.

Illinois-Chicago, which hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2000, seems poised for a return to postseason play. Coupled with what is one of the best seasons in NU history and Loyola’s much-improved 9-4 record, the quality of Windy City soccer is at its highest level in recent memory.

“It’s good for Chicago soccer,” Lenahan said. “Four or five years ago, there were no really good teams (in the area.) Now, if you include Northern Illinois in that group, there are four or five really good teams.”

Roth, freshman Eamon O’Neill and sophomore Geoff Fallon agreed the prospect of being the best team in Chicago is something they all strive for, and the local rivalry game means all the more to NU’s Chicago-area natives.

Because of previously existing relationships with friends and former club teammates on Illinois-Chicago, the Cats will have some extra incentive to earn the victory. One club, the Chicago Sockers, will have 10 alums on the field or sidelines.

“Anytime you play against your friends from club (soccer), it’s really going to add another dimension to the game,” O’Neill said. “It makes it a little more intense, because you always want to beat your friends, probably more so than people that you don’t know.”

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