Men’s Soccer: Northwestern falls to Michigan in Big Ten Tournament

Ava Wallace, Online Sports Editor

Northwestern knew Michigan was an athletic team. It knew the Wolverines were going to be riding high coming off of a four-game win streak.

But knowing only does so much.

The Wildcats were unable to combat the Wolverines’ dominance at Lakeside Field on Friday afternoon during the teams’ semifinal match-up in the Big Ten Tournament, and NU ended its tournament run with a 3-0 loss.

The shutout sends Michigan to the championship game against Michigan State on Sunday afternoon.

Much like the Cats’ first-round win against Ohio State, NU’s fate seemed to be determined in the first five minutes. Michigan’s Tyler Arnone, who leads his team in goals for the season, sent a floating shot past NU sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

The Cats, who started the game flatly and had barely possessed the ball at that point, could not bounce back.

“We knew (Michigan) would have energy because they were very confident. They had just won four straight games, and giving up an early goal fed into that confidence,” NU coach Tim Lenahan said. “If you see my scouting report, it says, ‘First fifteen minutes are going to be critical.’ … And we just didn’t have it today.”

NU spent the bulk of the next half fighting Michigan in the midfield, only to quickly lose the ball on either botched passes or scrappy challenges. The Cats’ usually impenetrable defense scrambled to keep pace with the Wolverines’ speedy forwards and ultimately relied on lofty clears to get the ball out of NU’s defensive zone.

Even after the first media timeout — the first time during the game that NU had a chance to make adjustments — junior defender Scott Lakin said the NU squad struggled to keep its composure.

“They clearly had more energy from the start,” Lakin said of Michigan. “During the first time out we were trying to rally the troops a little bit, unfortunately we just couldn’t get it together.”

Although the Cats were sluggish from the start, it was clear that the Wolverines were not going to wait for NU to make mistakes – they were going to forcibly take a win.

Michigan outshot NU 13-7 and had double the number of shots on goal for the game.

When the two teams met at the end of September for their regular season contest, NU blanked Michigan 2-0. Lakin called the Wolverines a different team than the one the Cats defeated then.

NU senior midfielder Chris Ritter, who was just named to the First Team All-Big Ten and honored as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, again credited Michigan’s mentality to their decisive win.

“They were winning all the scrums today. They were winning all the battles. It seemed like they wanted it more,” Ritter said. “In the first game it was probably us who was winning those little fights, little battles, and we kind of reversed roles today. They were definitely the better team and they probably deserved to win today.”

In the 39th minute, Michigan forward T.J. Roehn widened the gap between the two teams and clocked his third goal of the season after bouncing the ball off of Miller’s left post and into the net when Miller came off of his line to challenge the forward.

During halftime, NU made the adjustment to push forward more in an effort to open up the game and create more chances. Lenahan said the field position allowed Michigan to score their third goal.

Despite the tweak, the team’s offensive plays looked lackluster as they periodically have throughout the season. Time and again Michigan defenders surrounded NU freshman forward Joey Calistri, NU junior midfielder Lepe Seetane and Lakin, who made multiple runs into Wolverine territory on the near sideline, and were able to quickly win the ball back.

Although NU will not contend for its second Big Ten Championship in as many years, the team still has a chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

Moving forward from the semifinal loss, Lenahan listed many of the Cats’ more impressive victories this season, including a 2-1 early-season win against Kentucky and a 2-1 victory over Notre Dame, as arguments for NU’s spot in the NCAA Tournament.

And although his team was not able to bounce back against Michigan, Lenahan said the Cats have no plans to say goodbye just yet.

“I’m hoping people recognize what we did particularly at the top of the table against those really good teams,” Lenahan said. “Hopefully we get to play another game. We didn’t give any farewell speeches today.”