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Men’s Soccer: Wildcats seek better start against UIC

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Men’s Soccer: Wildcats seek better start against UIC

Northwestern forward Elo Ozumba goes in for a header. Ozumba and the Wildcats are looking for a fast start in their next game against University of Illinois at Chicago after falling behind early in their previous game.

Northwestern forward Elo Ozumba goes in for a header. Ozumba and the Wildcats are looking for a fast start in their next game against University of Illinois at Chicago after falling behind early in their previous game.

Zack Laurence/ The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern forward Elo Ozumba goes in for a header. Ozumba and the Wildcats are looking for a fast start in their next game against University of Illinois at Chicago after falling behind early in their previous game.

Zack Laurence/ The Daily Northwestern

Zack Laurence/ The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern forward Elo Ozumba goes in for a header. Ozumba and the Wildcats are looking for a fast start in their next game against University of Illinois at Chicago after falling behind early in their previous game.

Ben Pope, Reporter

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Facing cross-city rivals University of Illinois at Chicago for the first time since 2009 on Wednesday night, Northwestern hopes to ride a steady effort out of the gate to its first road win of the season.

The Wildcats (2-3-1, 1-1-0 Big Ten) conceded a goal in the 9th minute of their dispiriting 3-0 loss at Michigan on Sunday, continuing a trend of falling behind early in games. NU has trailed within the first 22 minutes in three of their four losses this year, and if the team is to earn its first road points of the season this week, coach Tim Lenahan knows they need to avoid another shaky start.

Lenahan has put the responsibility on a quartet of experienced seniors — forward Joey Calistri, midfielder Cole Missimo, defender Henry Herrill and goalkeeper Zak Allen — to keep the opening minutes of Wednesday’s match under control.

“It’s a very typical pattern every time you play on the road that the other team is very amped up. You have to manage those first 15 minutes until the game settles in,” Lenahan said. “We need that group to steady … the boat.”

The hosting Flames (4-2-1, 1-0-0 Horizon League) pose a stiff test, entering the game riding a three-game winning streak in which they have not allowed a goal. UIC senior forward Jorge Alvarez scored twice in his team’s 2-0 victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay on Sunday and leads the Flames with 3 goals and two assists on the season.

The matchup, although technically a road game for the Cats, does bring home stadium-lacking NU back to the Chicago area, where they are 2-0-1 this year. Kicking off at 7 p.m., the match will take place just 16 miles south of Evanston at UIC’s Flames Field — the same venue in which the Cats will host Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in October.

With back-to-back Big Ten matches against Indiana and Maryland looming, Lenahan is hoping to gain a momentum boost from what he expects to be an intense rivalry-like meeting with UIC.

“It’s a derby,” he said. “A lot of the kids (on the two teams) know each other. They have a lot of talent and they’ve been playing very well. It’s a tough challenge for us.”

NU fell to UIC 2-0 in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament and again in a 2009 exhibition game. The Cats haven’t played the Flames since those two losses and haven’t won a meeting between the two squads since Sept. 28, 2005.

The opening six games of the season, moreover, have proved tumultuous for NU, as they have been outscored 9-4 and outshot 107-51 cumulatively. Although the team has been shut out in three of its last five matches, Lenahan sees the scoring struggles as more than a merely offensive issue.

“Because we’ve been giving up too many goals, it’s kept us from moving forward offensively,” he said. “If we can shore up defensively, we’ll be able to take more risks offensively.”

Lenahan described the team as a “work in progress” and brushed off a question about getting back to .500, which would happen with a win on Wednesday. Instead, he’s looking, more simply, for improvement over the Cats’ poor performance this weekend.

“What I’m really looking for (is) progress from Sunday to Wednesday,” said Lenahan. “This is a long season.”

Email: benjaminpope2019@u.northwestern.edu

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