Leverone: Men’s soccer is done for the season, but the future is bright


Daily file photo by Kelsey Carroll

Northwestern lost to Indiana on Wednesday in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Having made it this far, however, the ‘Cats have much to look forward to for the future.

Kyle Leverone, Reporter

Men’s Soccer

Just as the golden leaves falling on Sherman Avenue signal the end of a season, so does the golden overtime goal.

Indiana kicked Northwestern men’s soccer out of the Big Ten Tournament with such a strike on Wednesday at about 3:10 p.m., putting an end to its season and unexpected run to the semifinals. But given the improbability of the feat, making it this far in the postseason tournament is a success in its own right. 

With only two conference games left on their calendar, the Wildcats (6-9-3, 3-5) battled Ohio State just to make it to the Big Ten Tournament. NU started 0-3 in conference play, and the squad had to pick up some wins to have any shot at seeing action in November.

It’s easy to say this with the Cats’ end-of-season run in hindsight, excluding the early results, it felt like this team was close to success throughout the entire season. Looking back can help us look ahead to NU’s future. 

The last time the Cats made it to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament was back in 2013 after knocking off No. 2 Wisconsin. Since then, a dark cloud has loomed over Evanston, not only in winter after daylight saving time but also during the fall soccer season.  

That all changed in 2021. With first-year coach Russell Payne at the helm, the program knocked off No. 12 Maryland, the same team that had answered NU’s every move in October. The Cats advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in eight years.

In an interview after NU’s Oct. 19 win against Wisconsin, graduate student defender Spencer Farina said, “​​We’ve been right there knocking on the door.” 

Going into penalty kicks against Maryland in the first round of the postseason was the time to kick it open. 

Graduate student goalkeeper Miha Miskovic made two stops in penalty kicks, adding to his season high of 10 and punctuating his 110-minute shutout. The best part about his performance, though, was that it was somewhat unforeseen. 

Miskovic said NU had practiced shootouts a fair amount in preseason play and a lot more going into the conference tournament. But the veteran goalkeeper said he still felt a bit shaky.

“To be completely honest with you,” Miskovic said, “we had a shootout two days ago (in practice), and I didn’t save one penalty kick.”

Apparently some of the work with assistant coach Ricardo Pinto gave him an idea of where some of the Maryland players liked to go with their penalty kicks. In the end, though, Miskovic said he was in “default shootout mode.” It was like he was unconscious.

And with that, Payne received his trademark win for his first season with the Cats. Although Indiana had its shining moment against seventh-seeded NU three days later, this program has reason to celebrate. 

After a 2020 season (2-8-1, 2-7-1) just about as cheerful as the year itself, Payne transformed this program into a semifinalist finisher — and a 1-0 OT loss away from championship contender — in less than a year. This also came after losing the team’s goals leader and first-team All-Big Ten forward Ugo Achara Jr. to the transfer portal.   

After upsetting his alma mater Maryland, Payne tweeted, “Incredibly blessed to lead this group of men. We believe, we persist, we fight and we are Not Done Yet.”

The fall season may have concluded, but the final three words of Payne’s tweet, stamped with capital letters, signal a change in culture surrounding the program in the upcoming years.

“It’s an everyday process,” junior defender Deng Deng Kur said. “As time goes on, we’re gonna continue to buy into it, so I’m really excited for the future.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @KLever0ne15

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