Men’s Soccer: The impact of Northwestern’s rough recent schedule


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Tim Lenahan celebrates after his 300th career win. The coach will retire after the 2021 spring season, his 20th with Northwestern.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

Men’s Soccer

Northwestern started Big Ten play with a win at Maryland, the defending national champions, and it didn’t get easier after that. Not at all.

The Sep. 20 game started a stretch where the Cats played six top-50 RPI teams in an 18-day stretch. That gauntlet ends with NU’s (5-6-1, 1-2-1 Big Ten) game Saturday at Penn State (5-5-2, 2-1-1), and coach Tim Lenahan admitted the games over the last three weeks have paid a toll on the Cats.

“The rest of the world doesn’t play so many games in 18 days, and if they do, they don’t have to go to school during the day,” Lenahan said. “You can sort of start to see a glaze in their face. We’ve got to put everything we have into this Penn State game because then things start (to) lighten up for us.”

This run of games started off promising, as NU followed its win over the Terrapins with a walk-off overtime victory against Illinois-Chicago on Sep. 24.

The Cats played Ohio State to a scoreless draw the following Sunday, and three days later NU lost 3-1 against No. 5 Indiana. Lenahan said after that game that fatigue played a major factor in the missed upset bid, but the Cats haven’t scored since then.

NU lost 3-0 last Sunday at Michigan and were upset by Loyola 2-0 on Tuesday. Lenahan said he was disappointed to see the Cats outplayed by a mid-major, especially with the team needing a boost in confidence after the recent slide.

“We’ve got to find a way to be a little more grizzled and deal with energy,” Lenahan said after the loss to the Ramblers. “You’re not always going to have your best effort but you always have to give your best effort.”

After playing Wednesday night, NU took a 6 a.m. flight to get to State College, Pennsylvania. Then, after taking a “power nap” at the hotel, the Cats had a late-afternoon training session to officially start preparation for a pivotal Big Ten game against the No. 11 ranked team in the RPI.

NU hasn’t beaten Penn State since 2016, but a win would take the Cats to fourth place in the conference standings. Lenahan noted the Nittany Lions didn’t have a midweek game this week and the home team an advantage because of that.

But it does get easier after Saturday for NU. The Cats have eight, five and five days between their final Big Ten games this season. Lenahan said everything will start to fall into place once the team gets through the game against Penn State.

“The last two games we were slow to the mark,” he said. “Slow to do everything and not playing with the sense of urgency needed to win a Big Ten game. So like I said, we don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves.”

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