Women’s Soccer: Wildcats’ showdown with Minnesota ends in 0-0 stalemate
October 23, 2016
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Northwestern entered its penultimate contest of the season against Minnesota with the opportunity to all but seal a spot atop the Big Ten standings. But after 110 minutes of deadlocked action, the No. 23 Wildcats (13-1-3, 6-1-3 Big Ten) ended their conference showdown with the No. 13 Golden Gophers (12-3-3, 6-1-3) in a 0-0 tie and can instead guarantee only a share of the Big Ten regular season title with a win in their final game.
Nonetheless, the back-and-forth match saw the defensive-minded Cats at their best. Even without the win, NU walked away with a sense of accomplishment it’ll look to carry into its finale against Illinois.
“Honestly just playing our hearts out with our team, that’s what I wanted to do from freshman year to this year,” senior midfielder Rachel Zampa said. “It’s been an unreal change for us seniors. We’ve seen us at our worst and now at our best. We would have never imagined a night like tonight our freshman year.”
Zampa was honored with the rest of the team’s seniors before the game. But once the sentimental portion of the evening had finished, the team was thrown into a clash of pure physicality and grit that tested the team’s focus and stamina.
Both the Cats and the Golden Gophers had limited opportunities, and neither squad dominated the possession battle. Minnesota logged 13 fouls but NU came up empty on set pieces, while a strong effort from its back four and junior goalkeeper Lauren Clem stymied the few chances Minnesota got inside the 18.
“There were a couple of really, really close ones off of set pieces,” coach Michael Moynihan said. “That was something that we worked on this week, to try to shore up a little bit. We did really well to be dangerous; we didn’t quite punch it over the line though.”
Even toward the end of the contest as each team tired, the Cats struggled to break the Golden Gopher defense.
NU’s attempts to pass the ball behind the opposition were continuously thwarted by Minnesota’s defense, led by senior Rashida Beal, who helped limit the Cats to just four shots on goal.
“We wanted to connect a little bit more through the midfield because both teams were starting to fatigue,” Moynihan said. “Spaces were starting to open up. We got a little frustrated because we kept trying to play through ball, and (Beal) is one of the fastest players in the conference.”
But the same brand of dominance was seen in NU’s collective defensive effort, as the team also allowed just four shots on goal. The tie was the team’s 13th shutout of the season — a program record.
Clem also enjoyed a strong outing, pressuring Minnesota’s forwards into mistakes, while making saves whenever given the opportunity throughout regulation and the extra time.
“We’re over that 90 minute mark,” Clem said. “There’s a lot of girls who have been out there the whole half or game, so (I give them) lots of encouragement. I try to keep their head in it, keep them focused, keep them on their front foot, so they’re never caught waiting.”
Although it didn’t end in a win, the Cats’ passionate effort could still lead to a share of the regular season conference title — the program’s first ever — or an outright win, depending on how NU’s neighbors atop the standings, Penn State and Minnesota, finish the year.
But the win isn’t guaranteed. Though Illinois may trail the Cats by 10 points in the standings, NU will need to retain its focus to ensure it makes history.
Moynihan said Illinois’ 3-0 victory in early October over then-first place Michigan shows the Illini have the potential to derail the Cats going into the season finale.
“But tied for first place going into the last game is a pretty good place to be,” Moynihan said.