Freshman’s early goal enough for win (Men’s Soccer)

Philip Rossman-Reich

Freshman forward Matt Eliason took a long pass from junior defender Drew Ratner in the seventh minute and shot the ball past Loyola goalkeeper Brian Byrne for the first goal at Northwestern’s new Lakeside Field.

Eliason would take five more shots in the game. If one of those would have gone in, it would have saved the Wildcats from a tense ending against the Ramblers.

Loyola lined up a free kick from just outside the penalty box with three seconds left in the game. The ball squirted through the feet of multiple Ramblers and Cats players until it rolled into sophomore goalkeeper Misha Rosenthal’s hands as the game ended.

He and No. 3 NU (7-0-1) held on for a 1-0 victory Wednesday over Loyola (4-3-2).

“(A game like this) helps us keep building to where we want to go,” Rosenthal said. “We’re not anywhere close to where we want to be. Every game that we win is another step closer. A tough game like that is another thing we have proved to ourselves that we can grind out a game like this.”

NU took a big hit in the 67th minute when sophomore midfielder Carl Pett came out of the game with an injury. Lenahan said Pett underwent an MRI Wednesday night.

“Injuries are not if they’re going to happen, it’s when they’re going to happen,” Lenahan said. “You just don’t know who it’s going to happen to. That would probably be the one person I didn’t want it to happen to because he does a lot of work for us. But we’ll find a way.”

The Ramblers took advantage with one of the Cats’ top players off the field.

Loyola took three corner kicks midway through the second half that threatened NU’s 1-0 lead. The first corner kick was punched out by Rosenthal. The second attempt was deflected out of bounds for a third try.

The Rambler’s third kick was turned away for a throw-in this time, and they again had a great scoring chance. But Rosenthal and the NU defense turned Loyola away.

Lenahan said the early goal forced Loyola to attack rather than sit back and frustrate NU’s offense.

“(The early goal) helped our team get set,” Eliason said. “We always want to get out to a lead, get out to a fast start. Once you’re up 1-0, it gets the other team on their back heels.”

The Cats pressured the Ramblers throughout the game and had a couple of near misses. The Cats held a 9-4 shot advantage through 45 minutes, but could not break through.

NU’s best chance in the second half came in the 58th minute. Sophomore Mark Blades crossed the ball from the left, but missed Eliason’s head. Junior midfielder Tyler Voigt crossed it back, but Eliason headed it over the bar.

“Scoring goals is hard,” Lenahan said. “We’ll take a 1-0 win as much as a 4-0 win. We played about the same today (as Sunday against Ohio State). If you know the game of soccer, there’s going to be certain days you just have to grind a win out.”

Rosenthal and the NU defense were up to the challenge of defending a one-goal lead throughout the game.

In the 44th minute, the Cats failed to clear the ball in the penalty box and Loyola midfielder Alex Jones tried a bicycle kick. The ball looked like it would end Rosenthal’s four-game shutout streak, but the goalkeeper got a touch on it and the Cats cleared.

Rosenthal finished with five saves. The Ramblers got eight shots and six corner kicks. The Cats had 13 shots and three corner kicks.

“This is the first game we had to grind out for a goal,” Lenahan said. “Now we know we can do that. We didn’t connect in the final third as much as we would have liked to score more goals. By the same token, we were put under pressure at the end of the game, and we found a way to survive.”

Reach Philip Rossman-Reich at [email protected] .