Men’s Soccer: Meteoric rise launches NU into first place

Dan Ryan

Even as Northwestern failed to notch a goal for 76 minutes against the top team in the Big Ten, it was hard not to expect the Wildcats to pull it out.

They’ve just been playing that well.

So it came as no surprise to the 657 in attendance when junior midfielder Nick Gendron took a perfectly placed pass from sophomore midfielder Layth Masri and buried it in the back of the net to defeat Wisconsin 1-0.

And with that, NU, which was playing just well enough to lose when it got off to a 1-3-1 start this season, was sitting atop the Big Ten standings, much to the amusement of coach Tim Lenahan.

“Are we in first place?” Lenahan said. “I know. Obviously we still have two games left. But we knew it was going to be a one-play game. We played very well and defended very well. And the one thing is when you’re able to keep the ball like we did today, you don’t have to defend as often.”

The teams traded scoring threats for much of the first half. Twenty-two minutes into the game, the Cats nearly converted a corner kick, but Badgers goalie Max Jentsch caught the ball at the last moment. With 21:40 left in the frame, NU goalie Tyler Miller made a diving stop to his left to block the best Wisconsin scoring opportunity of the game.

The Cats opened the second half by getting consistent good looks on offense. And it took only one to dethrone the Badgers.

With only 14 minutes remaining in regulation, Gendron took a pass from Masri off a corner by sophomore forward Reed Losee and deposited it safely in the Wisconsin goal, thus completing the Cats’ run to the top of the Big Ten.

“Reed did a good job of throwing it to Layth,” Gendron said. “That’s something that we emphasized, making sure we throw it to our own team. And Layth just put the ball right on my head. Would have been a crime if I didn’t finish that one. Great ball by Layth, just in the right place at the right time.”

Senior midfielder Oliver Kupe said the Cats foresaw how the game would turn out.

“We knew what we were getting into coming here and playing Wisconsin,” Kupe said. “They’re a very tough team, really organized defensively. We knew it was going to be a grind-out kind of game, and the better defense would win. And one person had to make the play.”

For the role they played in the Cats’ ascension to the top of the Big Ten, Gendron and goalie Tyler Miller earned Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week honors, marking the fourth and fifth NU players to receive a weekly conference award this season, a school record. The string of individual accolades has led to powerful team results, as the Cats are riding a six-match unbeaten streak, a run which Kupe attributed to their ability to guard the goal.

“It’s just our commitment to defense,” Kupe said. “I know when we turned the ninth game of the season, we had a whole half to play. And we decided to really focus on our defense. We knew if we kept the number on our opponent’s scoreboard to zero, we’d have a chance to win every single game. It’s really helped us in this run, and hopefully we continue to do that.”

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