Women’s Soccer: Northwestern toggling through its frontline options


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Nia Harris closes down on an opponent. The sophomore forward has one goal on the season.

Charlie Goldsmith, Sports Social Media Editor

Women’s Soccer

When Indiana forward Abby Allen walks into Martin Stadium on Thursday night, she’ll have seven goals on the year and the chance to spoil No. 25 Northwestern’s season with a couple more.

This time last week, NU was ranked 11 spots higher and was close to the top of the conference, but after losing back-to-back conference games against unranked opponents, the Cats are now a game behind where they need to be in order to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament as one of the top eight teams in the conference.

According to sophomore forward Nia Harris, the Hoosiers (7-5-2, 3-4 Big Ten) and Allen — who has the second most goals per game in the Big Ten — are a reminder that the Cats (8-4-2, 2-4-1) still need to find a consistent goal scorer.

“(A) weakness is when your team doesn’t have that one person who you know is going to finish that opportunity,” Harris said. “I do think every team should have that one person.”

After NU scored just one goal in two games last weekend in losses to Rutgers and Maryland, coach Michael Moynihan said he’s exploring his forward and midfield options. Because of injuries throughout the season, Moynihan said he hasn’t been able to put out what he thinks is his best lineup and, as a result, has had to toggle through different choices on his front line.

After starting two forwards and four midfielders against the Scarlet Knights, Moynihan switched to a 4-2-4 formation, adding Harris and freshman forward Haley Lawson to the frontline to bring more offense to the lineup versus the Terrapins. Moynihan has rotated them with everyday-starters senior forward Brenna Lovera and sophomore forward Kayleigh Stahlschmidt throughout the season.

Despite all of the adjustments, no one has scored more than two goals in Big Ten play. Sophomore midfielder Regan Steigleder credited NU’s struggles to the compact defenses they’ve faced over the last month.

“The defenders we’re facing are very big defenders, very fast and very solid,” she said. “A lot of teams that we’re playing play with a flat back four, and that’s just a lot trying to penetrate through the lines.”

After watching Allen on film, Moynihan concluded she doesn’t score the highlight goals one would expect from one of the most dynamic players in the conference. Instead, most of her chances come from being “in the right place at the right time.”

But that’s a more difficult ability than it appears, as Moynihan said he’s spent weeks trying to put his players in similar positions. He’s tried having Lovera serve crosses into the box instead of receiving them, and he’s empowered senior midfielder Marisa Viggiano, who leads the team with four assists, to fire away in situations she would normally pass.

He’s also increased Harris’ responsibility by periodically putting her at the top of NU’s formation and challenging her to use her speed to get to a ball in the open field in front of the opposing team’s defense.

But so far, Harris has only scored once and Viggiano has missed all 22 of her shot attempts. Starting with Thursday’s match, Harris said the Cats have only four games left to find their offensive identity.

“(We) don’t know who our dangerous player is,” Harris said. “So it’s going to need to be a lot of extra work (we) need to do.”

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