Ryan: Men’s soccer team providing great action

Dan Ryan, Sports Editor

Every once in a while, you need to give a shoutout to a lesser-known team. Maybe the players have a fun story or a quirky trivia fact that catches your eye, and you see it and feel the need to let at least someone else know about it.

Or maybe that team demands your attention with dominant play.

Such has been the case with the Northwestern men’s soccer team, a squad that will travel to Indiana on Thursday to play for its second Big Ten Championship in as many years.

If you don’t happen to follow all things Northwestern sports (and why would you? You’re a normal, well-adjusted human being, right?), then you probably haven’t noticed that coach Tim Lenahan’s group has a pretty good thing going on the frozen, blustery pitch of Lakeside Field. A year after winning both the Big Ten Championship and the Big Ten Tournament, the Cats have an opportunity to be repeat offenders with a win Thursday.

Hell, that’s more success in one year than the men’s basketball team has ever had. Ever. (A low blow to our beloved starting five. I’ll be illegally streaming all your games from my European study abroad program, I promise).

A tough defensive group highlighted by junior Scott Lakin, senior Jarrett Baughman and standout sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Miller has been the foundation of the team’s 10-4-3 record thus far this season. Newcomer Joey Calistri joins veteran senior Chris Ritter to spark an offense that scores just enough to win. The games may not always be pretty, but there’s an obvious fight in this squad.

The team is also all about giving fans the most bang for their buck, having gone to extra time in three straight games and eight overall for the season. How about that: a successful NU team providing a great fan experience. Well, I never…

But wait, it gets better.

NU will also play host to the 2012 Big Ten Tournament beginning Nov. 7, giving fans of the Wildcats the opportunity to watch the team go for what would be an incredible feat while also taking in some great Big Ten soccer. Depending on how Thursday goes, NU could enter the Tournament as the No. 1 seed and a favorite to take the title.

A small disclaimer: polar bears have been known to die as a result of the frigid temperatures on the lake shore in November, so I would encourage dressing warm. Maybe a few T-shirts, four sweaters, a parka or two. You’re gonna want gloves.

Conditions aside, I’m clearing out a solid chunk of next week to go to the games. Maybe paint up, bring a vuvuzela (or I could stop lying and admit that I’ll be in the warmth of the press box). Getting an opportunity to watch the tournament while I’m here is a treat.

Perhaps I’m biased — this is easily my favorite team at Northwestern after covering its improbable double-championship run last season. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge soccer fan going into that year, but call me a convert. This team is just too much fun to watch.

So give the Wildcats a chance. If nothing else, they will appreciate a little fan support. And who knows? Maybe they’ll convert you, too.