Men’s Soccer: Experienced team not fazed by higher expectations

Jimmy Mitchell

Northwestern broke new ground last season in earning the No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament and a first-round bye for the first time in school history. This came after a breakthrough run to the round of eight in 2006.

This year’s Wildcats have big shoes to fill.

But NU (7-0-1) has sailed through the early portion of its schedule without a defeat. The only blemish on the Cats’ record thus far came in a scoreless draw against Lafayette on Sept. 7.

NU, which finished 2007 ranked 21st nationally, entered the weekend No. 9 in the country. Coach Tim Lenahan said the increased expectations have spurred the Cats’ early play.

“You have a standard of what’s acceptable,” Lenahan said. “Once you’ve gone and set the bar on what’s expected, you naturally follow through. Some of these games that we’ve been able to be successful, it’s been a matter of experience.”

The Cats entered this season with nine returning starters. The biggest loss for NU is David Roth, who led the Cats in scoring last year and helped push the team to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years for the first time.

Because of its depth, NU has continued to succeed without Roth, according to Lenahan.

“(The players) have been around the block. They’re not going to get rattled. They know how tough it is to win games at this level,” Lenahan said. “We understood that without Dave we are going to be a different team. We were OK with that.”

The Cats have utilized a diverse offensive attack in the opening weeks of the season. Sophomore forward Matt Eliason leads NU with seven goals, three of which came Sept. 12 against Eastern Illinois. It was the third hat trick in NU history.

Five other players have combined for the Cats’ remaining eight goals. But perhaps no single player has been more critical to NU’s success than goalkeeper Misha Rosenthal.

“We’ve really defended well this year,” Lenahan said. “But knowing that, if it does break down, you have (Rosenthal) to make that big save. He’s just been outstanding to date.”

Rosenthal, a redshirt junior from Miami has patrolled between the pipes for all 650 minutes this season. He has allowed only one goal in NU’s first eight matches and has recorded seven shutouts.

Junior Mark Blades, a member of NU’s defensive corps, said Rosenthal’s presence provides a definite advantage.

“As a (defensive) back, it’s much more comfortable knowing that he’s behind me, because he’s capable of making a big save,” Blades said. “It’s huge mentally.”

Blades credited the Cats’ success to learning from valuable tournament experience in his first two years.

“That experience gave all the guys that are on the team now such good experience, and we learned from it,” Blades said. “We’re better prepared for some games now and situations now than in the past.”

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