Contributing Writer: Doug Pitorak
It seems that no part of Chicago was left dry, and Rogers Park was no exception on Oct. 17.
Like the unrelenting rain that engulfed Loyola Soccer Park all evening, the Northwestern University Wildcats men’s soccer team relied on a persistent offensive attack to defeat
the Loyola University Ramblers 2-0 and move to 10-2-2 on the season.
Rainstorms like that often make for a sloppy game, but although the Ramblers struggled, it had less to do with the elements and more to do with the poised play of the Wildcats.
“It’s not like we’re not used to it,” Joey Calistri said of the inclement weather. “And games this time of year are going to be cold, it’s going to be rainy but we got to fight through and persevere and find a way to get a result.”
From the first whistle to the last the Wildcats rarely played without the ball. Their passes were crisp and decisive, and the players often took only one or two touches before finding the feet of a teammate. They methodically built attack after attack, and as a result, Northwestern strung together 16 shots and earned 10 dangerous corner kicks. Not much time had passed before the first goal came.
Calistri scored the first goal for the Wildcats in the 14th minute, increasing his team-high total to six.
Senior midfielder Chris Ritter found the feet of Calistri who was sprinting toward the center of Loyola’s 18-yard box. Calistri, the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the week, corralled the pass in stride, drove toward the goal and quickly chipped the ball near the upper-right corner passed a helpless Peter McKeown, senior goalkeeper for the Ramblers.
The patience of building an attack paid off once Calistri had a path to goal.
“Ritter played me a great ball, and I was able to take a touch and put it through,” Calistri said. “And then I just had to get it behind the keeper and that was the easy part.”
The Wildcats weren’t without flaws though, as players and coaches agreed that they needed to cash in on their opportunities more frequently.
“[We] just got to finish more chances,” said Ritter, who missed a penalty kick in the 4th minute but redeemed himself in the 61st minute with a low-flying knuckleball that zipped past a diving McKeown. “I mean two goals is not bad, but [we] always can use more goals. If we scored maybe the third [we] would have been able to relax a little more [and the] coaches would have been a little happier.”
The Wildcats have been successful for the past decade and the team attributes its play to the consistency at the head coach position.
Tim Lenahan is in his 12th season as head coach at Northwestern which has proven very beneficial to the men’s soccer program, which sealed it’s seventh 10-win season over the last nine years with Wednesday’s victory.
“We’ve had sustained success, and that’s what a program’s about,” Lenahan said. “When you have a good program then you’re able to maintain some level of success. The players are changing, [but] we reinvent ourselves, [and] we play differently every year based on the players that we have.”
Part of the problem for the Ramblers, who with this loss are now 2-8-2 on the year, is that the team has not been around long enough.
They have 13 new players on their 28-man roster. Ten of the newcomers are freshman, and Ramblers head coach Brendan Eitz was not planning on using them as much as he’s been forced to.
“We didn’t expect to have this many freshman playing at all,” he said, citing injuries as a cause.
Youth and inexperience isn’t a good combination when facing an opponent like Northwestern, who are currently ranked No. 24 in the country. The Ramblers only mustered two shots in the entire game, both of which came in the second half. But as the Wildcats proved, a team needs possession to create scoring opportunities, and Loyola simply could not keep the ball.
“We seemed to panic when we got the ball,” said Eitz.
Though the Ramblers are off to a tough start this year, the team knows that something good can still come of this year. The coaches and upperclassmen are fresh off a season where they entered the Horizon League tournament as the sixth and final seed, only to end up winning it and earning a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“There is a lot to play for,” said junior forward Kyle Spoo, a player who was part of Loyola’s improbable run last season. “We’re still in the league race and that’s what we want and we just need to keep working.”
The Ramblers have a week’s worth of practice to prepare to host the Cleveland State University Vikings in a conference game next Wednesday Oct. 24 at Loyola Soccer Park.
Senior Day is this Sunday for the Wildcats as they welcome Big Ten opponent Penn State to Lakeside Field.