Men’s Soccer: Wildcats refocus for second Big Ten win

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Meghan White/Daily senior staffer

Sophomore midfielder Eric Weberman scores the winning goal for Northwestern off of a cross from sophomore defender Grant Wilson early in the second overtime period. Michigan State was the Cats’ second conference win this season.

Ava Wallace, Reporter

After Northwestern’s sluggish showing that resulted in a loss to in-state foe DePaul, coach Tim Lenahan held a mid-season meeting during which he talked about long-term objectives.

Emphasizing the importance of the second half of the season, Lenahan urged his team to play as if their record were 0-0, and the players set specific goals for the rest of the year.

On Sunday, the Cats (7-1-2, 2-0-0) checked their first priority off the list with a 2-1 road win over Michigan State (3-6-1, 0-1-0) in double overtime.

“We were going to have a team meeting after DePaul whether we won or not — the first nine games it doesn’t really matter what your record is, everything’s determined by your second half,” Lenahan said.  “I told them to refocus, and getting back and playing well after Wednesday was our first goal.”

The Cats trailed at the beginning of the second half after clocking only two shots on goal in the first 45 minutes, compared to the Spartans’ four. In the 75th minute, referees gave Michigan State midfielder Jay Chapman a red card for an intentional handball in the box while defending a corner kick from sophomore defender Grant Wilson.

Senior midfielder Chris Ritter was then able to capitalize on the resulting penalty kick, giving the Cats the equalizer. NU held a 4-1 advantage on corner kicks for the game, and Wilson said the penalty kick was the type of opportunity the team had prepared for all season.

“We’ve been putting a lot of time towards restarts in practice,” he said. “They’re such an essential part of the game and it’s starting to pay off.”

Early in the second overtime period, sophomore midfielder Eric Weberman took a cross from Wilson and buried the shot in the back of the net on one touch to end the game 102 minutes and 15 seconds after it started. It was the Cats’ fifth match of the season to run into overtime, which has resulted in three wins and two ties.

After coming out flat in the first half, Lenahan said the second-half success should be attributed to a tighter defensive backfield and a formation change that put more pressure on Michigan State. Lenahan moved players forward at the start of the half, but shifted his focus to defense after the Cats scored because Michigan State was playing man-down after the red card.

The Cats then held the Spartans to only two shots after the halftime break and took nine shots of their own in that time frame.

“After the first goal we just needed to be disciplined in the back and wait for someone to step up and make a play,” Lenahan said. “Most of our goals are not scored by great efforts, but by creating great chances.”

And after the loss to DePaul and Sunday’s “sloppy” first half, Weberman said he wants to focus on keeping the momentum going as the Cats face a non-conference road match against Bradley on Wednesday.

But for now, NU is content with the quick turnaround and conference victory, which was Lenahan’s first win over Michigan State on the Spartans’ turf.

“Big Ten wins on the road are hard to come by,” Lenahan said. “It’s going to be a good bus ride home.”