Men’s soccer: NU picks up momentum heading into Big Ten play

Dan Ryan

Northwestern knows what it’s like to blow a game in the final minutes.

Leading 1-0 against Portland, the Wildcats allowed the Pilots to score two goals in the final 4:16. Two days later, Valparaiso broke a 0-0 tie with 17 seconds remaining, edging the Cats out for the victory.

“We came off a tough weekend the weekend before,” junior Chris Ritter said. “We lost both games to Valparaiso and Portland. We probably should have won both, which is why it’s so tough. We’ve been giving up late goals, which has been our Kryptonite.”

Having learned the hard way, NU made sure not to let the game slip away late, recording back-to-back shutouts to beat UC Davis 1-0 before topping Xavier 2-0.

Coach Tim Lenahan said if his team played like it did this weekend from the start of the season, the Cats (3-3-1) would be sitting undefeated atop the Big Ten.

“We did, in both matches, something we hadn’t done up to this point and that’s really just put the lockdown on the game,” Lenahan said. “When you have a lead, you know you’re going to get chances because the other team has to press forward, but most importantly you don’t give up goals. The only reason we’re sitting here at 3-3 instead of 6-0 is because we weren’t able to do those things the first couple weekends.”

UC Davis gave NU a scare late in the second half, with two shots on goal missing wide and a third blocked by sophomore midfielder Lepe Seetane. With the sting of the previous week’s losses still fresh in their minds, the Cats were relieved to escape the final minutes unscathed.

“We got a little lucky,” Ritter said, who scored the lone goal in the contest. “One hit the post and one went just wide, so maybe we had a little luck on our side, which helped. But it was definitely too close.”

NU weathered a similar storm to keep Xavier out of the net. The Musketeers took nine shots in the second half, though goalkeeper Tyler Miller was forced to make just two saves. The Cats jumped out to an early lead with two goals in the first 26 minutes. Nikko Boxall headed in a corner from Reed Losee in the 12th minute and Ritter put NU up by two when he converted a penalty kick after senior forward Oliver Kupe was brought down in the box.

Sandwiched between two heartbreaking losses and NU’s Big Ten schedule, the weekend’s games represented a critical point in the Cats’ early season.

“There’s a lot of energy with our team,” junior Jarrett Baughman said. “We knew that this was a weekend where we could turn the season around and put ourselves on a good projectile heading into the Big Ten. We do have a tough schedule coming up and we wanted to get two good results.”

Although the Cats’ conference slate is approaching, Lenahan rejected the notion that the road ahead will be any more difficult than what NU has already faced.

“Who said (the upcoming games are) the tougher part of our schedule? Xavier is undefeated and they had given up one goal coming in here,” Lenahan said. “We played Cal-Berkeley, top-10 team. So, these are the tough games. UC Davis beat UCLA last week, so I don’t know that it’s the tougher part of our schedule.”

NU opens its conference season next Saturday against Michigan State (1-4-1) at Lakeside Field in Evanston.

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