Women’s Soccer: Returning Viggiano sparks Northwestern’s victory over Illinois


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Marisa Viggiano dribbles the ball. The senior midfielder scored a free kick goal in the 60th minute.

Avi Varghese, Reporter

Women’s Soccer

Going into Thursday’s game against Illinois, Northwestern knew that a positive outcome would be crucial for its chances of making the Big Ten tournament.

The Wildcats had gained only four points in the standings in their last three games, but goals from senior forward Brenna Lovera and senior midfielder Marisa Viggiano propelled NU (10-4-3, 4-4-2 Big Ten) to a 2-1 victory.

The Cats needed to adapt to Illinois’ 3-5-2 formation, which coach Michael Moynihan said is unique in the Big Ten. After assessing NU’s options, Moynihan chose to switch to a 3-5-2 as well.

“It’s very difficult for the 3-5-2 to handle the three forwards on the transition, but on the flip side it’s very difficult for the 4-3-3 to handle the midfield with the 3-5-2,” Moynihan said. “So we made the decision to mirror what they were doing.”

One benefit for the Cats was the return of Viggiano. Having the 2017 First Team All-Big Team member back in the midfield gave NU the chance to get back into its rhythm and use Viggiano’s combination plays to find looks on goal.

“I love playing with Marisa,” Lovera said. “She’s always so calm and technical. I always seem to find the little angles between us… I just know if I get in the right spot, she’ll find me the ball and then she’ll always be there to support me.”

A pass from Viggiano to Lovera near the left corner of the Illinois (10-7-0, 5-5-0) box in the 13th minute was misplayed by a defender, giving Lovera a chance. She turned around, found an opening and curved the ball into the right upper 90.

She said it was inspired by an attempt by United States Women’s National Team forward Megan Rapinoe in Wednesday night’s CONCACAF Women’s Championship.

“I just picked it up and went for it and it was perfect,” Lovera said.

The rest of the half saw saves from freshman goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood and deep runs toward the Fighting Illini box from freshman defender Julietta Thron. Illinois continued to play its game, attempting to draw the Cats in and catch them out of formation.

In the 61st minute, a through ball by senior midfielder Aspyn Repp gave freshman midfielder Kaylee Titus a breakaway opportunity. Titus’ run was stopped when Illinois midfielder Hope Breslin committed a foul and gave NU a free kick from just outside the box. The referee handed Breslin a red card.

Viggiano — the Cats’ dead-ball specialist — stepped up to take the kick and sent it into the bottom left corner.

“That’s a free kick spot that I’ve practiced a little bit during practice, so I knew how I wanted my run up to be, the number of steps I wanted to take and where I wanted to shoot it, so it just happened to work out,” Viggiano said.

Despite the Fighting Illini’s efforts to move the ball around, NU still managed to keep Illinois from getting good looks at goal — until the 76th minute. A corner from Morgan Maroney was punched up in the air by Wood, but midfielder Kelly Murray managed to find the ball undefended as it came down and headed it in.

The mood changed from there. The Fighting Illini began aggressively searching for ways to tie the game despite being a player down. They came close, finding a pair of corners and back-to-back shots on goal, but the Cats managed to keep them out, maintaining their lead and closing out the match.

The win allowed NU to claw its way into the top eight in the Big Ten, though the Cats are just one point ahead of two teams: Michigan, which plays last-place Michigan State on Sunday, and Iowa, which will be playing NU.

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