Men’s Soccer: Sunday tie raises stakes for Northwestern on Thursday

Ava Wallace, Online Sports Editor

Northwestern got a little help from its friends Sunday, setting up an opportunity to play for the Big Ten Championship on Thursday.

NU (10-4-3, 3-1-1 Big Ten) ended its third overtime game in a row 0-0 on the road Sunday against Wisconsin (6-7-4, 1-3-1). The Wildcats decide their fate in the Big Ten on Thursday when they travel to Bloomington, Ind., which coach Tim Lenahan calls “college soccer Mecca.”

Sunday was an important day for the conference. Indiana lost 3-1 to Michigan State, and Penn State and Ohio State tied in overtime with four goals apiece.

In order for NU and Penn State to share the conference title, Indiana and NU need to tie Thursday and Michigan State has to lose or tie with Michigan on Saturday.

But for the title – the full title, no co-winners – the Cats need a win Thursday.

“Now, we’re the only team that controls our own destiny,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “Today, we put ourselves in a position to play for a Big Ten title. That was our goal.”

Extra minutes on Sunday gave NU fewer problems than it has in the past two games. The Cats’ defense was able to fend off a few nerve-racking opportunities the Badgers came up with in the final 20 minutes despite sophomore defender Nikko Boxall’s temporary absence on the field during overtime.

Lenahan said Boxall came off the field because he had been kicked earlier and needed to be checked out. The Cats were also playing without senior forward Kyle Schickel, usually a leader on offense, because of a toe injury.

As a result, Lenahan said he leaned on his midfielders more than he usually would have.

“We had to dig a little bit deeper,” Lenahan said. “Those guys like (freshman forward) Joey Calistri, (freshman midfielder) Cole Missimo and (junior midfielder) Lepe Seetane had to dig in a little bit. Other than a chunk in the second half, though, I thought we carried the tempo of the game, and we were very close to breaking through.”

The Cats managed to outshoot the Badgers 10-4.

For the first time in more than a few games, it is NU’s offense that will dominate the highlight reel. Seetane drilled the ball in the 73rd minute from 27 feet out only to hit the crossbar, and Calistri contributed three shots on goal out of the team’s five total.

The other two shots came from sophomore midfielder Eric Weberman, who played smartly on attack and won multiple different challenges coming off of the bench, and freshman defender Henry Herrill.

After two disappointing games, Lenahan said he was pleased with his team’s playmaking Sunday.

“I was very happy with how we went about our business,” he said. “It’s not like we were waiting around to make a play like we had been in the last couple of games. Every guy was trying to be the guy to make something happen.”

Defensively, sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Miller, who is now 8-1-4 in the conference for his career, came off his line more than usual and went one-on-one with Wisconsin players throughout the game.

Miller now has 16 career shutouts, six of which have come from Big Ten games. His aggressive play Sunday reflected the entire team’s energy, especially in extra time, when the Cats got particularly fired up.

“We were really trying to get that goal in overtime,” Miller said. “We knew it was on the line for the Big Ten and we wanted to go after this game and put as much as we could into it.”

Calistri, who still leads the Cats in goals with six for the season, said his team will still need to work on finishing opportunities before Indiana on Thursday.

Despite some persistent problems and a conference tie, Miller said the team ended Sunday excited for the week ahead.

“A couple of results went our way today, and that just makes us want it that much more,” Miller said. “We’re going to have two days of practice, and we’re just going to keep working. We know what’s at stake and we know what we need to do. We just need to go out there and do it.”