Men’s Soccer: Cats handle Huskies, extend unbeaten streak to four games

Kevin Casey

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A month ago, Northwestern stood at 1-3-1. Now, the Wildcats aren’t just back on track – they’re on fire.

NU (6-4-3, 1-0-1 Big Ten) was able to find a way around Northern Illinois’s terrific defense at Lakeside Field Wednesday night – immediately going on the offensive.

The Cats controlled the ball for most of the first half, with ample opportunities to take the lead, but they failed to capitalize, and the two teams went into the break tied at zero.

Freshman midfielder Nikko Boxall ensured the Cats’ missed opportunities wouldn’t come back to haunt them when he headed in a beautiful corner kick from senior midfielder Peter O’Neill in the 58th minute.

“Pretty much we just ran our play as we were told,” Boxall said. “Me and Jarrett [Baughman] both ran our lines hard and they just left us wide open and the ball just came to me and I just tucked it away with my head.”

NU avoided a second-half collapse as its defense held firm. The team’s lead was cemented by a header from sophomore midfielder Lepe Seetane in the 87th minute.

The Cats’ defense played a great match, with the Huskies’ only real threat coming in the waning minutes of the game when they clanked a shot off the post. Freshman goalie Tyler Miller posted three saves en route to an astounding sixth shutout in just 12 games.

But it was the offense stepping up in the second half that made the difference. Coach Tim Lenahan attributed the second-half scoring to good teamwork.

“You make your plays, you got to make plays,” Lenahan said. “Both goals were exactly the same, great service and great finish. If you get great service, finishing’s easier. If you get a great finish, that makes the service look good.”

After their initial shaky start to the season, it seems that the Cats have finally righted the ship. Seetane credited this turnaround to team familiarity.

“For the first five games, we were trying to figure our whole system out and trying to try out some new things,” Seetane said. “But now we actually know what we want to do.”

Seetane added the team’s cohesiveness has helped bring along this string of victories.

“The majority of us, we’ve been here, we know what to do,” Seetane said. “We’ve adjusted and actually brought the team together.”

The Cats will face Penn State (6-4-2, 0-3-0) on Sunday, resuming conference play at as high a point as they’ve been all season. They haven’t lost a game since Sept. 28 and have lost only once in over a month.

But Lenahan knows that soccer isn’t an easy game, even after a great victory against a Huskies (8-4-0, 0-2-0 Mid-American Conference) team that is receiving votes in the Top 25.

“College soccer is a parity-driven game,” Lenahan said, “and if you can make some plays and get a break, their shot hit the post down here, our two went in, then you can see it’s a very even game, and we were on the right side of the scoreboard tonight.”