Men’s Soccer: Kicked into 2nd gear

Jimmy Mitchell

Twice this season Northwestern had played to a scoreless draw, going the full 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods without scoring or allowing a single goal.

Friday’s match between NU and Loyola-Chicago went the same way, with both teams unable to get on the scoreboard after 110 minutes of play. But because this game was a first-round NCAA tournament contest, it did not end there.

With the opportunity to move on to face Notre Dame in the second round hanging in the balance, NU and Loyola faced off in a decisive shootout.

The Wildcats scored on each of their first three penalty kicks, and after senior Brian Usinger beat Loyola goalkeeper Brian Byrne to give NU the 4-1 victory, the team rushed to the sidelines in jubilation.

“We were up two goals on them, so I was pretty confident,” Usinger said. “So I asked the guys, ‘Where do you guys want to celebrate after I put it in?’ They pointed over there to the fans, and we went over and celebrated.”

The shootout victory marked the close to an intense, frigid night at Lakeside Field. Despite a temperature in the low 20s, a crowd of more than 800 came to watch the tightly contested match between the two local rivals.

The combination of NU and Loyola supporters gave the game an extra boost of intensity, senior defender Drew Ratner said.

“It was an unbelievable game to play in. It was as loud as the crowd has ever been,” Ratner said. “Every play, somebody was cheering. Every single play seemed to carry a ton of importance, which I guess is what the NCAA tournament is all about. You could just feel the difference between the regular season and the playoffs here.”

The Cats (13-4-3) entered the game having defeated the Ramblers 1-0 on Oct. 28 in Chicago.

But it was Loyola (12-6-4) who began Friday’s match with the upper hand. The Ramblers controlled the ball for the majority of the first half and, at one point during the period, led NU in shots 6-1.

Loyola’s best scoring opportunities came midway through the first half, when the Ramblers had the ball directly in front of NU’s goal. Junior goalkeeper Misha Rosenthal made a kick save on a shot at the 25 minute mark.

Less than two minutes later, the Cats’ defense blocked a shot that would have evaded Rosenthal and given the Ramblers the lead.

“(Loyola) really came ready to play,” NU coach Tim Lenahan said. “They didn’t catch us off-guard, but they’ve played four games already for elimination. So there’s a different edge to the other team. We’re just kind of getting our feet wet. They really took it to us the first 25-30 minutes. It took us a little while to get adjusted to that we were playing for real.”

NU responded in the second half, when they out-shot Loyola 7-1. Still, despite opportunities on both sides, neither team was able to put the ball in the back of the net.

With 110 minutes in the books, Lenahan chose sophomore Jack Hillgard, sophomore Matt Eliason and junior Mark Blades as his first three shooters. All three were successful.

Rosenthal stopped two of three shots, setting up Usinger’s game-winner.

“I am a nervous guy on the sidelines. I was not nervous during the shootout,” Lenahan said. “Our guys were money on the PKs. And we get to play another day.”

The Cats will face Notre Dame tonight in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

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