The Northwestern Men’s Soccer Team (10-4-3, 3-1-1) have stumbled in their last three matches going 0-2-1 without recording a goal, but still have the opportunity to capture the Big Ten regular season championship outright with a win Thursday night at 7 PM (CT) in Bloomington against perennial national power, Indiana (11-4-2, 3-2) that will be aired live on the Big Ten Network. Indiana can also gain at least a share of the conference title with a win against the Wildcats despite losing their last two Big Ten matches. A tie would give NU a share of the title with Penn State (9-4-3, 3-1-2) if Michigan State (8-7-1, 3-2) loses or ties against Michigan (6-8-1, 2-2-1).
If you are a Northwestern fan, even if you hate soccer, this game should be at least as interesting as the (other) Thursday Night Football game on NFL Network that pits the thriller of a Kansas City Chiefs team that is the first team since 1940 to not have a lead in regulation through seven games and an imploding San Diego Chargers team that barely has anybody worth starting in fantasy. Regardless, you are probably going to decide to watch this horrendous TNF game because you have the Chiefs +8.5 or you miss seeing Notre Dame lose and want to see Brady Quinn, who also plays Daniel in ABC’s Revenge, fail. Either way, Northwestern’s best chance to hoist a Big Ten trophy this fall will be Thursday night so I suggest flicking it on during commercial breaks.
As far as the real football(soccer) game is concerned, it should be a good one. Indiana and Northwestern were pegged as the Big Ten co-favorites by the coaches in the preseason, and even though the path hasn’t led to both teams being 5-0 heading into this game as it was looking like when they were respectively, cruising at 3-0, each side has the opportunity to claim the title in the final game at a legendary stadium under the lights which is rare.
The big concern for the ‘Cats is attacking in the final third because, as mentioned, they are currently marred in a dry spell having not found the back of the net in their last three contests. First year forward, Joey Calistri is a very solid player, who probably will be the B1G Freshman of the Year, but he is just not ready physically to carry a scoring load for a team. It is too much to ask of any freshman, so Northwestern is going to need to find a way to get some more numbers into the attack and generate chances. I think their best chance to break the draught will be from set pieces where IU historically struggles along with NU having big, strong targets such as Nikko Boxall, Jarrett Baughman and Chris Ritter (5 G, 5 A) to get on the end of Grant Wilson (6 A) services. IU has a veteran defense, though, headed by savvy senior leader Caleb Konstanski and fifth-year goalkeeper Luis Soffner, who has had a good year, but has been an achilles heel in the past.
Both midfields are very skilled and deep that will look to dictate the tempo of the game. Ritter and Lepe Seetane are the guys to watch for NU to see if they can create offense from the center of the field and get forward. If not, A.J. Corrado, Jacob Bushue, Harrison Petts and co. have the ability to keep the ball and make Northwestern chase and defend for long stretches.
The defense for Northwestern has continued to be stout led by goalkeeper Tyler Miller and centerbacks Boxall and Baughman, but they haven’t come across someone of the caliber of Indiana sophomore forward, Eriq Zavaleta, yet who leads the Big Ten in goals by a wide margin with 15 (Calistri and Penn State’s Julian Cardona are in second with six). Zavaleta will almost surely be named B1G Offensive Player of the Year along with being a candidate to be offered a Generation adidas contract to leave early for Major League Soccer so it will be key for the NU defense to keep him in front of them and deny him the opportunity to turn at all costs.
Here is a statistical look at the two teams (B1G ranks in parenthesis):
- Goals per game: NU - 1.29 (4th); IU - 1.76 (1st)
- Goals against average: NU - .78 (2nd); IU - .74 (1st)
- Leading Goal Scorer: NU - Calistri 6 (2nd); IU - Zavaleta 15 (1st)
- Assist Leader: NU - Wilson 6 (4th); IU - Corrado 9 (1st)
Indiana has a much more storied tradition and is overall the more talented team team on paper or computer screen, but Northwestern has championship mettle. Enjoy the game if you flick it on and Go ‘Cats.