Men’s Soccer: Red-hot Cats keep on rolling with 1-0 victory over the Nittany Lions

Dan Ryan

If anyone was going to score, it was going to be Oliver Kupe.

In what has become just another day at the office, the senior forward provided the only offense Sunday afternoon as Northwestern took down Big Ten rival Penn State to improve to 6-1-2 in its last nine matches.

Count coach Tim Lenahan among those not surprised by Kupe’s performance.

“He makes big plays. He knows how to compete in big games,” Lenahan said. “Ollie’s scored probably 20 goals for his career now, and of the 20, half of them have been Big Ten, Notre Dame or NCAA Tournament goals. He has a knack for making plays in the big games. That’s his legacy. That’s the mark he’s going to leave.”

Kupe made plays from the opening whistle. Eleven minutes into play, Nittany Lions defender Matt Smallwood barely blocked the senior forward’s header from six feet out. Six minutes later, Kupe had a one-on-one with the goalie, and it took a diving stop by Penn State goalkeeper Andrew Wolverton to keep his shot from finding the back of the net.

Nothing could stop him from getting on the board in the second half as Kupe delivered the game-winning goal 14 minutes into the frame, putting the Cats in the win column yet again.

Lenahan said Sunday was simply a matter of grinding out a difficult game away from home.

“It’s a tough road game in the Big Ten, so any road win is good,” Lenahan said. “Penn State did a good job of not giving us much room in the middle of the field. They didn’t let us get a real rhythm in there, and they had the ball most of the time. But we found a way to score a goal.”

On the other side of the field, the Cats are now riding a 188:08 minute shutout streak, excluding stoppage time.

“We defended really well,” Lenahan said. “Our legs were a little bit heavy, but we found a way to grind it out.”

With three straight wins, the Cats hardly resemble the hard-luck squad that played just well enough to lose earlier this year. Since starting out 1-3-1, NU has turned its luck around with more disciplined play.

“We’re minimizing the number of mistakes we’ve made,” Lenahan said. “We made a ton of mistakes in the beginning of the year that gave up goals at the end of the game. We’re a more cohesive group. We know our roles better. Key players are stepping up at big times.”

Despite the recent success, don’t expect Lenahan to let his players get complacent.

“You always want to improve,” Lenahan said. “That’s your goal, to be 1 percent better every day, after every practice session. We’ll watch the tape from today and break it down and go over some things we could do better.”

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