Northwestern won Wednesday night at Lakeside Field to get its season back on track.
After losing its last two games to Bradley and Michigan State, the No. 14 Wildcats (8-3-0, 1-1-0 Big Ten) beat the Northern Illinois Huskies (3-8-0) in their eighth shutout victory of the season, defeating their opponents 1-0.
Momentum swung back and forth during the first half, with neither team able to score.
NU sported an unconventional lineup, looking to take advantage of Northern Illinois goalkeeper Mike Pavliga, a true freshman making his first collegiate start. Midfielders Brandon Medina and Cole Missimo, a combined 19 starts between them this season, were both off the field to start the game.
The Cats generated pressure early. Just 30 seconds into the match, sophomore forward Joey Calistri received a great ball behind the Huskies’ defense but was ruled offside. At the six minute mark, senior midfielder Lepe Setanee had a great chance inside the box that was deflected wide by a Northern Illinois defender. Three minutes later Setanee had a cross from the left corner, but he wasn’t quite able to connect with sophomore defender Henry Herrill to find the back of the net.
The Huskies stormed back, taking advantage of some sloppy defensive play by NU. Northern Illinois had a corner kick at 14 minutes but couldn’t convert. Moments later, the Huskies made a cross into the box that sailed just over the goal.
Cats fans witnessed a scary moment midway through the first half, when Medina went down holding his right knee. Medina, a freshman and the team leader in assists, did not return to the game.
“As a freshman, he’s leading the Big Ten in scoring,” coach Tim Lenahan said. “We’ll make some adjustments without him. Lepe Setanee went inside and did a great job.”
After setting a career-high 10 saves in his last game against Michigan State, NU junior goalkeeper Tyler Miller went relatively untested in the first half, stopping the ball only once.
“We grinded a little bit better,” Lenahan said. “You have to block shots in the box. Almost like a hockey game, you have to sacrifice your body sometimes.”
The action started off slow in the second half, neither team wanting to surrender the first goal. The Cats’ first chance didn’t come until the 54th minute, when senior midfielder Chris Ritter collected a corner kick from Setanee in the box but failed to get off a good shot.
In the 57th minute, a foul was called on Northern Illinois a few yards from the midfield line. Senior defender Scott Lakin set up for the free kick and launched the ball deep into the box. Ritter jumped higher than his defender and headed the ball off the right post past Pavliga to put NU up 1-0 over the Huskies. It was Ritter’s fourth goal of the season.
“I tried to give (Lakin) a little wave, and I think he saw me,” Ritter said. “It’s not a high percentage shot. I put myself in a position to score and got lucky.”
A one-goal advantage was all the Cats needed, as they continued to be defensively stout throughout the second half. Miller was well insulated, making only one more save. Northern Illinois launched a furious attack in the final 10 minutes, but NU held on and won the game.
“I can’t say my heart didn’t go into my stomach a few times when the ball went just wide,” Lenahan said. “It’s soccer, and you need to have some soccer gods on your side every once in a while. They all even out over the course of a year, and eventually you get what you deserve.”
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