Men’s Soccer: No. 2 Wildcats’ hot streak halted

Jimmy Mitchell

Going into Saturday’s match against No. 21 Michigan, No. 2 Northwestern was confident. As the undefeated owners of the best start in school history, they had reason to be.

But the Wolverines disrupted the Wildcats’ perfect season, upending them 3-1 at Lakeside Field.

For coach Tim Lenahan, NU’s dominance this season did not preclude his team from the inevitability of an eventual loss.

“We won 13 games, plus three pre-season games, that gives you 16 games,” Lenahan said. “No team has gone undefeated in college soccer since 1977. It probably wasn’t going to be us, so somewhere along the line you were going to get a lesson taught to you.”

All three of Michigan’s goals came in the second half. Wolverine scoring leader Mauro Fuzetti opened the scoring with a quick strike at the beginning of the period, and he later broke a 1-1 tie with another goal with a little more than 11 minutes remaining in the match.

Just minutes later, Michigan’s Steve Bonnell added another score and effectively sealed NU’s fate.

The three goals that goalkeeper Misha Rosenthal and the Cats’ defense allowed matched the number of goals they allowed in their previous 13 games combined.

“They scored three incredible goals. I don’t think we defended that poorly,” Lenahan said. “They scored three great goals. That’s what happens. We have a bicycle kick that hits the crossbar, their shot hits the bar and goes in,” referring to sophomore Matt Eliason’s first-half acrobatic shot attempt that barely missed giving NU an early lead.

The two teams played to a scoreless tie in the first half, as NU (11-1-2, 3-1-0 Big Ten) controlled the ball for the majority of the period.

The Cats’ defense limited the Wolverines’ offensive opportunities. Michigan (10-4-2, 2-1-1) was unable to execute a single shot on goal.

Things changed in the second half.

The Wolverines took the lead just more than three minutes into the period, seeming to take the Cats by surprise. Senior Brian Usinger was able to tie the score with a penalty kick four minutes later, but that was the last legitimate scoring opportunity NU got.

“We weren’t tough enough,” Usinger said. “We didn’t play with enough urgency. The urgency has got to be better.”

This problem seemed to even plague the Cats’ usually reliable defense. Late in the match, despite there being a number of defenders surrounding Fuzetti in front of the net, NU hesitated to defend him and allowed the eventual game-winning goal.

“You have to play with a certain energy all the time,” Lenahan said. “Did we play our best (Saturday)? No. We didn’t play our best. If you play your best and lose, that means the other team is clearly better than you. Michigan was better than us. Maybe there’s another meeting down the road, in the Big Ten tournament or whatever, and hopefully we’ll play with a little more energy.”

The Cats will look to bounce back from their first loss tonight, as they travel to the North Side to face Loyola at 7 p.m. After tonight, only two games remain on NU’s regular season schedule.

“There’s only so many games left,” Usinger said. “It’s do or die now.”

[email protected]