By: Doug Pitorak, contributing writer
The Northwestern University Wildcats men’s soccer team defeated the University of Michigan Wolverines 2-0 in its Big Ten opener Sept. 23 at Lakeside Field.
For the Wildcats, the victory begins their quest to remain Big Ten regular season champions, a goal the team does not take lightly.
“Every game is life or death in the Big Ten,” explained senior defender Jarrett Baughman, whose performance helped the Wildcats record their third shutout in a row. “Every game is so tough that you can’t put a value on 3 points, especially at the beginning of the year.”
Wildcats Head Coach Tim Lenahan shared Baughman’s sentiment.
“The Big Ten is the one conference in soccer where all seven teams believe they can win, so any Big Ten win is important.”
The Wildcats managed one goal during each half of the game through good timing and an insistent offense that put together 14 shots.
Doubling as a midfielder and defender, sophomore Grant Wilson was all over the field, but no spot was more crucial than Michigan’s 6-yard box where he received a perfect flick from senior midfielder Nick Gendron.
“I just know it was a real good touch because it landed right at my feet,” Wilson said.
Wilson tapped it in the net to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute. Later, he helped Northwestern add to its lead by lobbing a corner kick toward the near post where senior midfielder Chris Ritter leapt and struck the ball past the goalkeeper in the 63rd minute.
With zero losses on the year and five straight wins, the Wildcats believe their determination is starting to pay off.
“I think that last year we had a tough start to the season, and I think this year we’ve corrected that,” Baughman said.
The Wildcats’ defense is reason to believe the team is in better shape than last year. Michigan was held to just five shots during the game and didn’t get its first shot until the 32nd minute. Baughman believes team chemistry has much to do with the strong defense.
“We all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “We do our best to work in practice to come together and know those weaknesses and compensate for them.”
The defense played as a cohesive unit, rarely giving Michigan players room to run.
“Everyone is working as a team together,” Wilson said of the reason for stifling opposing players.
Armed with a poised defense and advantageous offense, the team is hopeful that its successful start will carry through to the end of the season.
“I think we’ve done what we needed to do at the beginning of the season,” said Baughman. “Now it’s our opportunity to build on that going forward.”