Men’s Soccer: Youth movement pays off for Northwestern

Katherine Driessen

Northwestern has invested plenty of faith in its youth this season, with coach Tim Lenahan showing no age discrimination in his lineup choices.

During Wednesday night’s 3-2 win over DePaul, some of NU’s young guns gave Lenahan a sizeable return, proving their net worth in a currency the Wildcats could use some more of: goals.

Sophomores Kyle Schickel and John Rogers and freshman Layth Masri all scored their first collegiate goals in the second half of the heated grudge match to lead NU’s resurgence after trailing 1-0 at halftime.

“Youth has definitely been something of a theme for our team and our program as a whole,” said Rogers, who started for the first time against DePaul, replacing injured senior Jack Hillgard. “We are a family here, so no one is left out. I think you see us all playing more confidently because of that.”

It’s one thing to stage a comeback though and quite another to stage an upset.

NU (5-4-1, 0-1 Big Ten), currently last in the Big Ten, will aim to do just that against conference leader No. 15 Ohio State (6-2-2, 2-0) at home on Sunday to keep its NCAA dreams alive. The Buckeyes pose a formidable threat, coming off a strong opening performance that includes a 2-1 win over No. 11 Michigan State, who denied the Cats 2-0 in the conference opener in East Lansing two weeks ago.

Perhaps even more impressive was their recent 2-2 draw with No. 1 Akron. A Buckeye equalizer with just seconds left in regulation forced the Zips into two scoreless overtime periods and shattered their 11-game shutout streak.

“We know how challenging this game against Ohio State is going to be,” Masri said. “But I think we’ve had some important turning points now with this win and the game against Notre Dame. We definitely have some momentum.”

Though Lenahan said he is reluctant to call anything a turning point until NU establishes a longer winning streak, the team’s win over DePaul did open the previously-jammed offensive floodgates.

“Mid-week, when sometimes that energy is a bit low, it comes up to these younger guys to make the play,” Lenahan said. “In three different cases we did that. That’s a good sign.”

Entering Wednesday’s matchup, the Wildcats had mustered just two goals in their past four games.

The goals came from NU’s most polished finishers, all-time leading goal scorer senior Matt Eliason and season-leading goal-scorer junior Oliver Kupe. But neither forward has been given much room to breathe, or score, up top, with defenses double-teaming NU’s most lethal attackers.

NU is used to relying on Eliason to find the back of the net. At this point last year the Cats were riding an eight-game winning streak, thanks largely in part to Eliason’s nine goals. This year the forward has been held to just two.

Eliason played a more withdrawn striker against DePaul and helped to mount offensive pressure with a pair of assists on the evening, including a service that set up Masri’s winning goal.

“We all have to step up,” Masri said. “No exceptions. If we do that we can keep winning.”

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