Men’s Soccer: Quest for perfection

Adam Fusfeld

With just four games remaining No. 2 Northwestern is nearing the finish line of an undefeated season, but several speed bumps still lay ahead.

Left on the schedule are three top-25 conference opponents in Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, and local foe Loyola-Chicago. But for now, the Wildcats focus is centered squarely on the No. 21 Wolverines, whom they face in their regular-season home finale on Saturday.

“Michigan is a good team,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “They are a senior-dominated team, so they have a lot of guys we’ve seen from previous years. We’ve always had very good games against Michigan and I expect a good game on Saturday.”

Getting 13 games into the season without a loss has been a testament to NU’s strong defense.

The Cats (11-0-2, 3-0-0 Big Ten) have the lowest goals against average of any squad in the country. Michigan (9-4-2, 1-1-1), unlike Northern Illinois, whom NU defeated 1-0 on Wednesday, plays a very open style of soccer.

The Cats must defend against a high-powered Wolverine offense that features three players who have scored more than seven goals this season.

The Cats, on the other hand, have only one player with more than three goals.

“They send a lot of guys forward,” junior goalkeeper Misha Rosenthal said. “That strength of theirs is also a weakness because we can counter off that. So it’s going to be an up and down game.”

Though defeating Michigan is a difficult task given the time of year, NU cannot help but look ahead a little.

With the season waning, every game has added significance as the Cats position themselves for the postseason.

“If we don’t win this game, we face Michigan State and they’re 4-1 in the Big Ten,” senior defender Brian Usinger said. “So it’s a Big Ten game. Every one of them is important and we can’t afford to lose. But we need to win too.”

For most of the season, Lenahan has talked about what aspects of the game the team needs to improve. The defense has been outstanding all season, but at times the offense has been inconsistent.

On top of that, the team sometimes does not maintain its aggressiveness when it captures the lead in a game.

Now Lenahan has changed his focus.

Wins are crucial at this stage, and rather than lament about NU’s imperfections in victories, Lenahan has instead become thankful for the successful results.

“I told our team not to complain about any more wins,” he said. “The first eight games we were trying to establish what we were about. Right now if you have more goals than the other team does that’s what it comes down to.”

Though this sounds like a humble outlook, not all the players are as modest.

Sophomore forward Piero Bellizzi is confident that the team can wrap up the season without a loss. Even with a ranked Michigan team up next and a tough stretch to end the season.

“We’re not going to go crazy preparing because we’re playing Michigan,” Bellizzi said. “I think, in the end, we’re better than them. So we’re going to win.”

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