Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Men’s Soccer: Northwestern’s season ends with Big Ten Tournament loss to Michigan

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Eli Kronenberg/The Daily Northwestern
Graduate student forward Ugo Achara Jr. attacks the goal. Achara scored four goals and tallied an assist this season.

Moments after the Martin Stadium scoreboard struck its final seconds sealing Northwestern’s 1-0 loss to Michigan and the season as a whole, the team trotted toward the touchline to thank the supporters one final time.

In a game where the hosts outshot the Wolverines (5-5-7, 2-1-5 Big Ten) 16-6, Michigan forward Alex Waggoner broke the deadlock with a 72nd minute dagger, and the visitors’ defense saw out the result.

With a sharp November rainfall rearing its course, the Wildcats (10-4-3, 4-3-1 Big Ten) returned to the bench, where coach Russell Payne consoled his players in a postgame address. Unlike other matches, there was no extended cooldown, nor music. NU had reached the end of the road.

Pure devastation — the feeling of nearing ever close to a season’s goals but falling short by the finest of margins — poured down on Payne’s group. Under sobering rain showers, players hugged, tears flowed and several competitors walked off the collegiate pitch forever.

To the team’s coach, who helped engineer a turnaround from the bottom of the Big Ten’s pack to championship contention until the regular season finale, one loss can’t wash away what the ’Cats accomplished this fall. 

“The record (we) put together this year is in the history books, and we should be extremely proud of it,” Payne said. “We were picked to finish second to last (in conference) and we almost finished first … We got our culture right, and the guys fought for each other.”

Both teams looked to set a physical tone from the opening whistle, exchanging hard fouls and tackles throughout the pitch’s middle third. NU faced the Wolverines just five days earlier in a 3-0 road defeat, but the ’Cats shifted several pieces around for this grudge match.

Payne elected to hand freshman midfielder Tyler Glassberg his first career start at left wing — a decision he said he knew would pay dividends.

“The coaching tree that I come from, that’s been a normal thing — freshmen starting late because they earn it,” Payne said. “Usually, they’re fearless, ready to go … He did exactly what I thought he would do, competed, defended his butt off and now he’s just gonna go from strength to strength.”

While neither side manufactured a clear cut chance through most of the first half, senior forward Justin Weiss jostled his way free around midfield with just over 90 seconds before halftime.

Weiss executed a nifty body feint, accelerating the ball into space off his dominant right foot. The first team All-Big Ten talisman planted and fired a rocket from 35 yards out.

Mere inches away from immortality, the ball struck the crossbar and bounced back into play, where senior midfielder Joseph Arena’s follow up rolled across the endline. With two yellow cards apiece, the teams entered halftime knotted at 0-0.

As play resumed, NU controlled the bulk of possession, searching for a vital go-ahead-goal. However, Michigan goalkeeper Isaiah Goldson and his backline held strong and fended off a series of dangerous set piece opportunities.

Approaching the final 18 minutes of regulation, Wolverine defender Matthew Fisher sent a low driven shot toward sophomore defender Henri Richter. The center back deflected the shot, which fell onto a silver platter for Waggoner. The young striker found the bottom right corner, handing Michigan a 1-0 lead.

“When you don’t score, you keep teams around,” Payne said. “We had plenty of chances again.”

Searching for a season-salvaging scoring chance, the ’Cats immediately attacked down the flanks, looking to break down an opponent defending for its life. Although they drew four second half corner kicks, the equalizer remained abegging.

In the game’s final three minutes, the center referee appeared to signal for an NU penalty kick, but called a handball in the opposite direction — Payne consequently received a booking for dissent.

After the Wolverines thwarted freshman defender Fritz Volmar’s 90th minute effort, the hosts’ NCAA Tournament hopes evaporated, closing Payne’s third campaign in Evanston. The coach said the hardest part of the night was comforting the departing seniors and graduate students responsible for the program’s resurgence.

“I can only tell them I love them — and I’m so grateful for what they brought, what they’ve done and how they bought in and believed,” Payne said. “They made decisions to want to have the season we had.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jakeepste1n

Related Stories:

Men’s Soccer: Five Northwestern players receive All-Big Ten honors

Men’s Soccer: What to Watch For: Northwestern looks to survive and advance in Big Ten Tournament grudge match against Michigan

Men’s Soccer: ‘Cats drop season finale to Michigan, lose out on Big Ten regular season title

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