Men’s Soccer: Late goal from Achara Jr. lifts Northwestern over Indiana for first time in more than a decade


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

Ugo Achara Jr. races down the sideline. The sophomore forward’s goal in the 87th minute lifted Northwestern to a 1-0 victory over Indiana.

Drew Schott, Web Editor

Men’s Soccer

When Ugo Achara Jr. came off the field in the 64th minute, coach Tim Lenahan made sure to find the sophomore forward.

Lenahan told Achara Jr. he would enter the game after a 10-minute rest, and then said three words: make the play.

Nearly 23 minutes later, Achara Jr.’s goal proved to be the game-winner in Northwestern’s (2-1, 2-1 Big Ten) 1-0 victory over Indiana (2-1, 2-1 Big Ten), the Wildcats’ first against the Hoosiers in regulation since 2009. With three goals in his last two games, the Enugu, Nigeria native has provided an offensive spark to an NU team looking to win a Big Ten title.

“When he’s operating on all four cylinders, he’s a very dangerous player,” Lenahan said. “He’s our playmaker.”

Surrounded by a sea of crimson in the box, Achara Jr.’s score Saturday epitomized his skill as one of the Cats’ top offensive players.

As graduate defensemen Spencer Farina’s throw-in sailed through the air, the forward stood directly behind sophomore defenseman/midfielder Deng Deng Kur, waiting for the right opportunity to go for the win.

He found it seconds later when Kur headed the ball forward. With only inches of space, Achara Jr. stepped up and flicked a toe poke towards the goal. By chance, the ball hit the chest of Hoosiers defender Spencer Glass, who accidentally redirected the shot to the right corner of the goal and out of reach of Indiana goalie Roman Celentano.

“I just wanted to get my leg to it towards the goal,” Achara Jr. said. “There was nothing else in my mind. I didn’t think take a touch. It was get a leg to it. And that’s exactly what I did. As scrappy as it was, we’re just happy to get a goal.”

Achara Jr’s goal was the culmination of an aggressive offensive attack from the Cats in the second half.

After firing only two shots to Indiana’s 10 in the opening 45 minutes, NU came out fast after the break by sending long passes down the field to their wings to set up scoring opportunities. Achara Jr. fired a rocket in the 50th minute and sophomore midfielder Logan Weaver almost put the Cats in front eight minutes later.

Deep into Indiana’s third, the Winnetka native received a long, curving cross from sophomore midfielder Eric Smits with his chest, flicked the ball forward and kicked a shot straight into the hands of Celentano, who failed to hold onto the ball. Weaver then stepped up and fired another attempt, but hit the top bar.

Freshman midfielder Joseph Arena tried to convert a rebound in mid-air, but sent his shot out of bounds.

The Hoosiers had their share of scoring chances too, winding up with seven shots and one corner kick. But their attempts were stopped by senior goalie Miha Miskovic, back in his starting role after not playing against Wisconsin.

The Serbian native made five saves over 90 minutes, preventing shots from going into the net with dives, catches and blocks into the air.

“What makes this team so special is their willingness to sacrifice individual glory for team success,” Weaver said. “We trust each other. We rely on each other and we work together as a team to come out at the end of the day with a victory.”

Saturday’s win against one of the top squads in college soccer will go down as one of NU’s best in recent years, with Lenahan calling NU’s victory “the equivalent of the football team beating Alabama.”

Indiana is the defending conference champion and a winner of eight national championships with a record of 28-1-7 in its last 36 games. The Cats had lost their last five matches to the Hoosiers by a combined score of 10-3 prior to Saturday’s win.

After celebrating the win and before his team began stretches, Lenahan put his hands in the air. His players immediately followed suit.

This squad is not only NU’s best since 2014, as Lenahan said. It is a group of 26 players with great admiration for Lenahan and a determination to succeed during his final season on the sideline for the Cats.

“He has done a lot for the program, 20 years of his life,” Achara Jr. said. “We… want to send him off right and make his final memory here a great one.”

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