Men’s Soccer: Northwestern’s tactical shift brings early success in 2022 spring season


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Northwestern players celebrate together after a goal. The Wildcats started off the spring campaign hot, scoring five goals in two victories.

Alex Cervantes, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Soccer

It’s been nearly five months since Northwestern’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Indiana in the Big Ten semifinals.

But spring is a season of change, and the transition afforded the Wildcats the opportunity to shift gears on and off the field, with new faces on the roster — and the results have been rewarding thus far.

Following the loss to the Hoosiers, a host of seniors departed Evanston, in turn making way for a new group of upperclassmen to take the reins. The Cats were active in the transfer portal too, adding three new members to the squad: sophomore forward Brandon Clagette, senior defender Ethan Dudley and sophomore midfielder Brett Chrisman.

On the pitch, NU’s new tactics prioritize building out of the back, controlling possession and having a versatile attack.

“There’s a deliberate intent to be a dynamic team on the ball,” sophomore midfielder Joseph Arena said. “There’s more of an intent on going forward with the ball and keeping possession.”

That mindset has paid dividends for the Cats through two games in their 2022 spring slate.

NU’s first test of the season came against Marquette on March 5. Junior midfielder Vicente Castro bagged the Cats’ first goal of the season with a flick over the outstretched Golden Eagles goalkeeper. In the same half, senior midfielder Bardia Kimiavi found himself free in the middle of the box. After receiving a cross from Clagette, he tucked the ball into the right corner to give the Cats a 2-0 advantage they held until the final whistle.

“Getting more numbers in the attack is definitely a strength of ours,” Kimiavi said. “Being smarter with our runs, the dynamism of our forwards and midfielders and getting the wingbacks involved … Those are all (keys to our attack) and it’s good to see.”

A month separated NU’s win and its next game, but the break didn’t phase the team. After going a goal down, sophomore forward Justin Weiss found the ball at his foot after a fortunate bounce — or unfortunate for Bradley. The 2021 All-Big Ten First Team member laid the ball off to Arena, who buried the shot and brought the Cats level 1-1.

Just 10 minutes into the second half, NU took a 2-1 lead and had its first griddy celebration of the year, courtesy of junior defender Deng Deng Kur. The outswinging cross from first-year midfielder Collin McCamy found Kur in the center of the box as he headed the ball into the top right corner. In the match’s waning moments, first-year defender Ibrahim Obeid iced the game with a driving run on his right foot before cutting back onto his left and placing his shot in the back of the net.

The Cats scored five goals from five different scorers in those first two matches. In the fall, NU relied heavily on its forwards to create and finish chances, but this spring the Cats have shown their offensive versatility in a myriad of ways.

“In the past, the team has been one-dimensional,” Kur said. “So it’s a good start so far, getting different people scoring goals and different ways of threatening (opponents).”

With two wins under their belt, the focus now shifts to the Chicago Cup: a chance for NU to cement itself as the best team in the city. A matchup against Loyola-Chicago looms on April 9, with the winner advancing to the final against either Illinois-Chicago or DePaul on April 23.

The Cats saw a glimpse of what was possible last fall, according to Kimiavi. The spring provides an opportunity for NU to take another step forward in preparation for the second year under coach Russell Payne.

The Cats’ style of play has begun to take root and its culture has, too.

In a season of change, NU is beginning to lay the groundwork for future success. But the Cats also have to stay in the present and that begins with three words preached by Payne: Win the moments.

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Twitter: @CervantesPAlex 

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