Men’s Soccer: Northwestern ends season with Sweet 16 loss at Louisville

Ava Wallace, Online Sports Editor

Northwestern had an answer for everything until the last four minutes.

For 82 minutes, NU (13-6-4) and No. 10 seed Louisville (14-5-1) were tied 1-1 in their Sweet 16 match-up in Louisville, Ky. Then came the own goal.

In the 87th minute, Louisville’s Dylan Mares set up a shot that deflected off of a Wildcat defender past sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Miller, who was out of position from defending the Louisville forward.

The Cats were unable to answer the home team’s surprising tally.

But a comeback would not have been unimaginable – earlier in the contest, NU’s tying goal came just two minutes after Louisville first got on the board.

Louisville’s Marlon Hairston clocked his third goal of the season for the Cardinals with a shot over Miller’s head from 16 yards out in the third minute.

The Cats answered quickly off of a set piece.  Junior defender Layth Masri took a corner kick off of which senior midfielder Chris Ritter first took a touch before senior defender Jarrett Baughman headed the ball into the goal in the fifth minute.

The goal was Baughman’s first for the season, though coach Tim Lenahan was not surprised it was a senior who made the crucial play.

“That’s what happens when seniors play in their last game,” Lenahan said. “He’s been a leader for us for the past four years. And that says a lot about us – last week the other team gave up an early goal and it ended up 5-0. Today, there was an early goal and look at what we were able to come up with.”

For the majority of the game, the two teams were at a quick-paced, back-and-forth stalemate.

Both teams rattled off nine shots, though the Cardinals edged NU out with five shots on goal compared to the Cats’ four. Both goalies made three saves for the game.

In fact, Mares’ goal was the first NU let in during the tournament after blanking both Western Illinois in their first round contest and Marquette in the second round.

NCAA Tournament achievements like that is what Lenahan said he wanted his team to remember for the season.

“We were able to rise to the occasion of whomever we played,” Lenahan said. “We were 6-2-2 against teams in the NCAA Tournament, and very few teams have that record. We had the ability to play against the best teams in the country and – except for once against Michigan – we played everybody very, very closely.”

After the pair of goals, NU tightened their defensive line to counter Lousiville’s pressure, which took form in the Cardinals moving quickly through the midfield with short, sharp passes and attempts to get a numbers advantage over the Cats in front of Miller’s goal.

Miller, who with 10 shutouts is only the second goalkeeper in NU’s history to tally shutouts in the double digits during one season, was forced to make only one save during the first half.

NU answered each of Louisville’s five shots in the second half, when the Cardinals were pressing the Cats most aggressively, with its own quality chances.

Still, Lenahan said his team could have been sharper on offense in the final third and pressed Louisville in the midfield more, punishing them for playing so many numbers so far up, as they did particularly in the second half.

Despite losing a trip to the Elite Eight, Lenahan said he focused on his team’s historic success on the season and especially praised his graduating class in a speech after the game.

“For the seniors, it stings right now because this team had really come together, and it’s never the same again, it’s unique. But I wanted the seniors to know that they had left a legacy,” Lenahan said. “No other team in our history had achieved Big Ten success like this, with some NCAA success as well. No other team in this program achieved that dual success and I wanted to make sure they knew the legacy that they left behind. I wanted to thank the seniors for their contributions.”