The Daily Northwestern

Men’s Soccer: Wildcats look to extend win streak against Michigan State

Ty Seager kicks the ball upfield. The sophomore forward and the Wildcats will take on Michigan State on Friday.

Ty Seager kicks the ball upfield. The sophomore forward and the Wildcats will take on Michigan State on Friday.

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Ty Seager kicks the ball upfield. The sophomore forward and the Wildcats will take on Michigan State on Friday.

Ella Brockway, Reporter

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Men’s Soccer

With just three games remaining in the season, it’s crunch time for Northwestern.

The Wildcats (5-9, 1-5 Big Ten) will put their three-game win streak on the line Friday when they welcome No. 9 Michigan State (10-2-2, 4-0-2 Big Ten) to Evanston.

NU will need to pair the attack that produced eight goals and has powered the Cats to three straight wins with a conservative defensive strategy. It will need to capitalize on a slower pace that kept NU in close games against some of the top teams in the country earlier this season.

“We’ve changed to a more attacking formation, so I think that’s helped,” said junior midfielder Camden Buescher, the team’s points leader with two goals and four assists on the season. “At the same time we’ve been pretty organized defensively in that formation. I think it’s just finding the balance between getting numbers forward and getting numbers behind the ball and keeping (the opponent) to a low score.”

The Cats will host the Spartans on Senior Night under the lights at Martin Stadium. A pregame ceremony will honor NU’s four seniors — goalkeeper Francisco Tomasino, defender Riley Kelliher, forward Elo Ozumba and defender John Moderwell — before the Cats try to extend their longest win streak since 2013 and upset one of the top teams in the country.

NU took home its first conference win of the year in a 3-0 shutout over Rutgers at home on Sunday. The Cats are looking to ride the offensive momentum of Sunday’s win into Friday night, freshman defender Garrett Opperman said.

“The Rutgers win was definitely a good win for us to get our confidence back,” Opperman said. “Now going into the next game, we know that we can attack with a little more confidence, and go out there and do what we can to get a win.”

Michigan State boasts one of the top defenses in the country; the Spartans have allowed their opponents only eight goals in 14 games, the second-best goals against average in the Big Ten. Goalkeeper Jimmy Hague is tied for the second-most shutouts in the country this season with nine.

While the Spartans’ defense poses an obvious challenge for the Cats, the Michigan State offense presents an opportunity. The Spartans have scored only 17 goals on the season, while NU has scored 15. Lenahan said Friday’s result will be imperative to the Cats’ postseason ambitions.

“Michigan State’s a different animal,” Lenahan said Sunday. “They’re (a) very veteran, experienced team with a very good culture. We’re playing a very good team that’s challenging for a Big Ten championship and we’re trying to avoid that 8-9 game (in the Big Ten Tournament), so it’s a big game for both teams.”

Michigan State is the fourth team the Cats have lined up against that has been ranked No. 1 at some point this season. NU will benefit from the lessons learned against that level of competition earlier in the season, Buescher said, especially during Friday night’s final home conference matchup.

“We know we can’t give up goals in the first 15 minutes,” Buescher said. “When we played some of the top teams in the country before, we’ve gone down big early, so we’re trying to stay organized defensively. The longer we keep the game 0-0, the better chance we have of winning.”

Twitter: @ellabrockway