Men’s Soccer: Cats draw Loyola in first round

Jimmy Mitchell

As the Northwestern men’s soccer team gathered at the Globe Café in Evanston on Monday evening, the meeting was far from a casual affair. Staring intently at a television set, the Wildcats waited for their name to be called as the 2008 NCAA tournament bracket was unveiled.

When NU was finally announced, the team’s seeding was met somewhat tentatively.

After being ranked No. 2 in the nation for a large portion of the regular season, three late losses left the Cats without one of the top 16 seeds in the 48-team bracket. Instead of receiving a first-round bye for the second straight year, NU will host local rival Loyola-Chicago on Friday at 7 p.m.

The players and coach Tim Lenahan, seemed surprised at the selection.

“I’m surprised that they put two teams that are so close together,” Lenahan said. “In soccer, the NCAA first round comes down to cost, even for seeding purposes. I’m sure we were very close to being seeded. There’s so many great teams in our region, the Great Lakes region, that they have to spread the wealth a little bit.”

The Cats were also anticipating the possibility of earning a top 16 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it, senior defender Brian Usinger said.

“We were thinking that we still might get a seed, maybe around 15 or 16. But that didn’t happen,” he said.

Four other Big Ten teams earned a spot in the NCAA tournament, led by conference champion Michigan State with a No. 4 seed.

Senior defender Drew Ratner said the team’s selection ultimately was not too much of a shock.

“I think we were all pretty sure that we weren’t going to get a bye and that we were going to end up playing a first-round game,” he said. “I don’t really look into it too much. Obviously we knew we were going to play somebody around here, so I guess Loyola-Chicago makes sense. I don’t think any of us were expecting to play somebody we already played this season, so that was a little bit surprising.”

NU played Loyola on Oct. 28, earning a 1-0 victory on a Usinger goal. The Cats lost in the second round of last year’s tournament to Illinois-Chicago after earning a first-round bye for the first time in school history. NU will face Notre Dame in the second round Nov. 25 if the team wins Friday.

Before the team left, Lenahan congratulated his players on earning a spot in the NCAA tournament. Receiving such an honor is the program’s primary goal, he said.

Lenahan also implored his team to build upon its recent hardships, including its loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament over the weekend.

“(Playing in the Big Ten tournament) certainly toughens you up a little bit,” he said. “Our three losses are to three seeded teams. We’re looking forward to coming back and playing at Lakeside Field. It should be a great night for a game.”

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