Men’s Soccer: Northwestern upsets Marquette to advance to Sweet 16

Ava Wallace, Online Sports Editor

Perhaps the end of Northwestern’s regular season was an anomaly.

The Wildcats (13-5-4), who ended their regular season play with two ties and two losses, defeated No. 7 seed Marquette (16-4-1) Sunday evening in Milwaukee, Wis., 1-0 to move on to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

This is NU’s fourth trip to the Sweet Sixteen in seven tournament appearances. The Cats previously advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006, 2008 and 2009

NU ended a historic season for Marquette, which had a first-round bye in its second-ever tournament appearance, the program’s first in 15 years.

Although the Cats undoubtedly upset Marquette in terms of tournament seeds, coach Tim Lenahan said the two teams played on equal footing.

“I thought it was an even game and I thought it was an even draw,” Lenahan said. “The only difference between our season and Marquette’s season was we gave away a few games in the midseason we maybe shouldn’t have … but if you look at the number of top teams we both had success against, it’s comparable.”

Despite NU’s midseason flubs, Sunday’s victory largely reflected NU’s play at the end of September and beginning of October — a concentrated stretch of wins against the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. 

The Cats’ defensive line, against which Michigan scored 3 goals, seemed unwavering against the Golden Eagles’ 9 shots for the game.

Freshman forward Joey Calistri, who scored NU’s game-winner in the 31st minute, said organized defense was a key to beating Marquette — that, and doing something the Cats have been talking about since the beginning of the season: finishing scoring opportunities. 

“We knew this was going to be a very tough game, and we knew that chances were going to be few and far between so that we had to take them when we had them,” Calistri said. “We also had to play lockdown defense — which I think we did very well.”

Though NU’s offense did manage to clock eight shots for the game, four of which were on goal, Calistri’s tally came off a free kick from junior defender Scott Lakin.

Calistri took a hard shot, low to Marquette goalkeeper Charlie Lyon’s right side for a one-touch goal. Lyon, a sophomore with 10 shutouts for the season, could not get a glove on Calistri’s shot. 

After that, senior midfielder Chris Ritter said, the team turned to defense. Though the Cats did not play too much more conservatively on offense — half of NU’s shots came during the second half — Ritter said his teammates were focused on protecting their lead.

The Cats faced an extra challenge in defending against Marquette because of the size difference between the two teams. The Golden Eagles boast 6-foot-7-inch defender Axel Sjoberg, who has the second-most goals for his team with 8 for the season.

Lenahan said NU’s tight defense, which has gotten better as the season progressed and particularly after making adjustments after the Michigan loss, played a huge role in the road victory.

“It is not easy to be organized defensively,” Lenahan said. “It is not easy to defend in the box when they have a 6-foot-7 guy coming at you. But that comes from trust, and a lot of hard work. We did well today.”

NU now faces the No. 10 seed Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen, which defeated its second-round contestant Winthrop 5-0. The Cats have not advanced past the Sweet Sixteen since 2008.

The Louisville contest will be this year’s seniors’ second trip to the Sweet Sixteen; their first came during their freshman year, when the team only had to tally one win to advance to the third round after a first-round bye. 

Nonetheless, Lenahan said junior midfielder Lepe Seetane, senior forward Kyle Schickel and junior defender Layth Masri, who live in Louisville, are excited to play in their hometown.

Calistri, as one of the team’s newer faces, is just excited to advance.

“It’s amazing,” Calistri said. “It’s absolutely crazy to think we’re playing in the Sweet Sixteen next week. It’s going to be a tough game. I mean, it’s the third round of the NCAA Tournament. We aren’t going to overlook anybody, and we are going to be ready.”