Men’s Soccer: Wildcats visit Loyola, former assistant in rivalry match


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Drew Rosenberg steps into a kick. The junior midfielder will be looking to help the Cats close out their season on a high note with only three regular season games remaining.

Benjamin Pope, Reporter

Men’s Soccer

Northwestern coach Tim Lenahan will look across to the opposite sideline on Tuesday night and see a familiar face.

Neil Jones, who served as an assistant at NU from 2010 to 2012, now coaches a Loyola team that boasts an 8-3-3 record (2-1-1 Missouri Valley Conference) in 2015.

“(Jones has) modeled a lot of the things that he’s done there off what he learned here,” said Lenahan, who remains good friends with his former right-hand man. “He’s very familiar with our program, and that makes it even tougher.”

The derby match between the Wildcats (6-6-2, 3-3-0 Big Ten) and the Ramblers comes just a few days after NU’s dramatic 1-0 Senior Day victory over Michigan State.

With only three games left on the schedule — the Cats visit Penn State and Wisconsin to close their conference slate — even the Big Ten regular season title is within reach: As of Monday, NU is tied third with Maryland at 9 points and only barely trails Ohio State (10 points) and Rutgers (12).

Amid the swirl of conference drama, however, the Cats must focus on Loyola, which ended a 14-match winless streak against NU via a 1-0 OT victory last year and now seeks a second-consecutive triumph over its northern neighbor.

Senior defender Nati Schnitman emphasized his team needs to avoid looking past what he called a “game for pride.”

“No one game is any more important than any other,” Schnitman said. “Beating Loyola is just as important, because (if) we get a win there, it pushes us forward with more confidence into our Big Ten play.”

The Ramblers haven’t allowed a single goal during a six-game unbeaten streak, most recently winning 1-0 at Northern Illinois last Wednesday. They topped Central Arkansas 3-0 on Oct. 17 in their most recent home contest to remain unbeaten (4-0-1) at home.

They’ve also already ensured another winning season after breaking .500 for the first time since 2008 last year, earning Jones and his assistants the 2014 Coaching Staff of the Year award in the MVC.

Despite the difficulty of the opponent, senior forward Joey Calistri — who scored in NU’s 4-1 win over Loyola in 2013 and played under Jones his freshman year — feels confident the Cats can maintain their momentum of late.

“We’re prepared for (Loyola) and we’re starting to hit our stride a little bit,” he said. “Hopefully, we can keep that going.”

The maelstrom of storylines surrounding both the Big Ten standings and the NCAA Tournament bubble escalates on a seemingly daily basis. NU could still finish anywhere from first to last in the conference table and could still slip back out of the NCAA’s expected field, despite surging from 61st to 35th in RPI over the past week.

But Lenahan said he simply hopes his squad embraces the intensity of the situation.

“We’ve scrapped, we’ve clawed, we’ve survived and we’ve made the last three games of the year very meaningful,” he said. “It’s like we’re in a pennant race, and everybody wants to clinch the pennant with a month to play, but it’s really the tightness at the end of the year that makes it exciting.”

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