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Men’s Soccer: Bradley slides past Northwestern in overtime

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Men’s Soccer: Bradley slides past Northwestern in overtime

Senior Lepe Seetane fights for the ball in Wednesday’s match against Bradley. The midfielder let loose a ball during overtime that narrowly floated over the crossbar.

Senior Lepe Seetane fights for the ball in Wednesday’s match against Bradley. The midfielder let loose a ball during overtime that narrowly floated over the crossbar.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Lepe Seetane fights for the ball in Wednesday’s match against Bradley. The midfielder let loose a ball during overtime that narrowly floated over the crossbar.

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Susan Du/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior Lepe Seetane fights for the ball in Wednesday’s match against Bradley. The midfielder let loose a ball during overtime that narrowly floated over the crossbar.

Enrique Perez, Reporter

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No. 5 Northwestern fell to Bradley as the Braves triumphed in a thrilling 3-2 overtime match.

The Wildcats (7-2-0, 1-0-0 Big Ten) were riding a seven-game winning streak into Wednesday night’s game. The match got off to a frantic start, with both teams slamming shots at each other’s goal. Bradley (5-3-1) attacked with pace, precision and aggression. Senior midfielder Connor Holloway dug in hard, matching the Braves’ aggression with well-timed tackles and quick interventions.

The constant pressure the Bradley offense applied on the Cats’ back line outdid the senior’s efforts. Forward Christian Okeke went unassisted in the eighth minute as he stole an errant pass from NU and fired it past junior goalkeeper Tyler Miller and the rest of the Cats defense. This gave the sizable crowd of Braves fans at Lakeside Field something to cheer about in the early going. It wouldn’t be the last time Okeke’s name appeared on the score sheet.

The Cats continued to make costly mistakes throughout the game, but they remained aggressive on the offense.Many of the chances generated were by playmaking senior midfielder Chris Ritter, who was the motor of the team. Despite the mistakes, Ritter demonstrated his experienced qualities and poise when he appeared on defense, interrupting any rhythm Bradley tried to establish.

“We put them in good opportunities to score goals,” Ritter said. “They didn’t kill us with great passing movements. We kind of gifted them two goals, but knowing that we would still be dangerous in the game with our chances to tie it up, I think that’s a source of positivity.”

The game was seemingly getting out of hand for both teams. Bradley frequently moved into the Cats’ half, putting menacing shots above the crossbar. NU did the same as junior midfielder Eric Weberman pushed a shot wide left that nearly tied things up in the 34th minute.

As the half ended, it was time for the Cats and coach Tim Lenahan to make some adjustments and reflect on the first 45 minutes.

“The first 15 minutes of the game, we were not ready to play and gave up that early goal,” Lenahan said. “I even said it on the sidelines, ‘We’re about to give up an early goal,’ because you can just feel it.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that.”

Despite any tactical changes made going into the second half, Bradley’s intensity and quick pace undid the Cats again in the 53rd minute. Another poorly timed pass from the defense cost NU a second goal when junior defender Grant Wilson’s attempted header was stolen by Bradley’s Aaron Birk. Birk netted the shot from 7 yards out, avoiding Miller’s efforts to stop him.

As the game died down in the second half, many Cats supporters had to ask themselves one question: where was Joey Calistri? The sophomore forward had been a goal machine this season but became a ghost in Wednesday’s contest. Everything changed in the 77th minute.

After NU cleared another attack, Holloway slotted a ball to Calistri. Calistri’s shot went past Braves’ goalkeeper Brian Billings to make it 2-1. The goal was his ninth of the season out of 16 shots, a staggering ratio of efficiency.

“We’ve got to make the most of the chances we get,” Calistri said. “We’ve been doing a good job of that so far as a team. Not just the finish, but the final passes have been good along with some movement off the ball. Overall, we’ve just been very focused in the final third when we get our chances.”

In the dying embers of the game, Calistri doubled his tally thanks to an assist from Ritter. Tying the game in such emphatic fashion gave NU a morale boost as the two teams headed into overtime.

“Some people tap dance and sing,” Lenahan said. “Joey works hard and scores goals.”

In the early parts of overtime, it looked like NU was on the verge of snatching victory as senior midfielder Lepe Seetane sent a ball just above the crossbar.

However, NU’s defensive mistakes forced it to pay the ultimate price. Okeke, who scored the opening goal, took a pass and bolted it into the back of the net in the eighth minute of overtime to earn Bradley victory over another soccer giant.

“Overall, it might’ve been a bit of an unlucky result, but you’ve got to give Bradley credit too,” Calistri said. “They played a great game and had a great strategy.”

Lenahan reflected on the game and emphasized the investment one has to put into the sport.

“If it didn’t hurt a little bit, that means you don’t care enough,” Lenahan said. “Our guys care, so this one stings a little bit, but the other team played well, executed their game plan, and made a big play at the end.”

The Cats have to recover quickly, as their next game holds a lot of weight for the season. NU hosts defending Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan State (6-1-1) (0-0-0) on Sunday afternoon.

Email: enriqueperez2016@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @EPerez1792

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