Men’s soccer can’t find equalizer in midweek loss

By Jacob Onak

Men’s soccer suffered its third straight loss Wednesday against No. 14 Northwestern.

All the Wildcats (8-3-0) needed was one goal to put the Huskies (3-8-0) away as the score was just 1-0.

“I think it was a bit of a smash-and-grab win for them,” said senior forward James Stevenson. “They had one chance and scored it, and we give them credit for that, but we were a better team than they were.”

This was not only the Huskies’ third straight loss, but also their fourth loss in the last five games.

In the first 45 minutes, the two teams were held scoreless, with Northwestern starting off with most of the possession but NIU having the better play in the half.

Freshman goalie Mike Pavliga made his first start for NIU, recording three saves in the first half and six saves in 90 minutes of play. Before this match Pavliga was the only goalkeeper on NIU’s roster to not get competitive time.

In the second half, the Wildcats struck first off of a set piece. After a Wildcat was fouled outside the box, defender Scott Lakin took the free kick and found redshirt senior midfielder Chris Ritter, who hit his header off the post and into the net.

From then on the Huskies were on the attack. Juniors Shawn Vroom, Paul Hogan and Andrew Palumbo all tested the Northwestern keeper, but the Huskies couldn’t find an equalizer.

The best chance for NIU came off a free kick from Stevenson, but the senior hit his shot just wide of the net in the 85th minute.

Stevenson said after the goal Northwestern parked the bus defensively and relied on counterattacks for the rest of the game.

“They got their goal and put 11 men behind the ball,” Stevenson said. “…Their game plan [was] to counter us, and it was frustrating at times to try and break them down, but that’s what you’ve got to deal with in today’s game…. It was really frustrating.”

Head coach Eric Luzzi said despite giving up the set piece goal, which has been NIU’s Achilles heel all season, his team stuck to its possession-style game plan.

“Our guys played very well,” Luzzi said. “We played a few more guys than normal and I thought pretty much all of our guys made a good account for themselves. On the whole, we outplayed them for large stretches of the game. We created a lot better chances than they did. You know, the goal came off of a midfield set piece that they just kicked in the box.”

NIU will have a quick turnaround as it finishes up its six-game road trip at Bowling Green.

The Falcons (2-5-1, 1-1-0 MAC) have struggled this season but have not lost in the MAC.

The Falcons are led by senior forward Anthony Grant, who leads the team with two goals, but Bowling Green has eight players who have scored a goal this season.

The match starts at 6 p.m.