Men’s Soccer: Northwestern looks to secure a postseason berth against Michigan State


Tyler Keim/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern men’s soccer huddles on the field. NU faces Michigan State in its regular season finale with postseason hopes on the line.

Alex Cervantes, Reporter

Northwestern men’s soccer will battle Michigan State in its regular season finale on Sunday, with postseason hopes on the line.

Sunday’s match against the Spartans (6-7-2, 2-3-2 Big Ten) bears significant weight for the Wildcats (5-8-2, 2-5). NU is currently tied with Ohio State for eighth place in the Big Ten standings, but only one of the teams can advance to the Big Ten Tournament.

In normal years, there would be a play-in game between the No. 8 seed and No. 9 seed, but it’s not happening this fall. Instead, should Ohio State and the Cats remain tied after Sunday, the Big Ten would use the teams’ matchup earlier this month as a tiebreaker. In that game, NU defeated the Buckeyes 1-0.

But coach Russell Payne said he and his team will have all eyes on the Spartans before worrying about the Buckeyes. The first-year coach looked to the Cats’ 2-0 win against Wisconsin earlier this month as the playbook for defeating Michigan State.

“Wisconsin had only conceded six goals when we played them,” Payne said. “But it was about how we approached the game. We were very aggressive with the ball, we were very clean, we moved as a unit and we didn’t second-guess. We just trusted in the process.”

NU is coming off the heels of a sloppy 2-0 nonconference loss to Villanova last week. Despite the final score, the Cats will look to build on their strong offensive second-half run against Villanova. Despite a stagnant first half, NU had a wealth of opportunities in the second period, taking eight shots and forcing three saves.

Although the Cats failed to get on the scoreboard, the turnaround was one of the few positive takeaways from the game. Senior midfielder Bardia Kimiavi said the team hopes to maximize its offensive versatility against a Spartan backline that has conceded the most goals in the Big Ten.

“We have some very talented attacking players, and it’s a matter of playing to their strengths,” Kimiavi said. “We have guys who can find the half-spaces in between the lines and guys like me and (sophomore forward) Justin (Weiss) that can stretch backlines. Then especially with this new formation, we’ve got guys like (senior forward) Jose (Del Valle) and (freshman midfielder) Collin (McCamy) that can fly down the wings. So it’s just about putting those pieces together.”

NU will have to stay strong defensively to defeat a solid Michigan State attack. The Spartans have scored 19 goals on the season and put 31.5% of their shots on target. Michigan State forward Farai Mutatu has netted six goals, tied for third-most in the Big Ten and assisted on another three.

Regardless of what tactics the Cats may use to stymie the Spartans, graduate student goalkeeper Ethan Bandre said not only does the backline need to stay disciplined in its approach — but the team also needs to “start the way we finish.”

While the play on the field falls on Payne’s squad, the environment in the stadium may come down to the turnout of the NU student body. The game kicks off at 3 p.m., several hours before any Halloween evening festivities students may attend. The temperature is expected to hover at about 50 degrees with a low chance of precipitation.

Payne said he certainly hopes the NU community will support the team and come out on Sunday.

“It’s Halloween and it’s before anybody goes out trick-or-treating,” Payne said. “We should pack the stands and come out in full force. It means a lot, and these guys will respond to that.”

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex

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