I checked out my former teammates in action for the first time this spring against two Division III opponents at Lakeside Field in what can probably categorized as the opposite of measuring stick games. The 'Cats took on UW-Parkside and UW-Whitewater at 10:00 AM and 12:30 PM, respectively, while the football team was busy playing against each other and getting a 4 star QB.
Considering the circumstances and the opponents, I set the over/under of fans for the soccer matinees against DIII teams at 17.5. However, the Wisconsin schools seem to have a pretty loyal fan base and by my count there were at least 43 people in attendance. Two people that were at the games on the Northwestern side who really epitomize what NU soccer is about were the parents of Russell Witek. Russell, a 14 year old boy battling cancer, was adopted by the program in 2009 through Friends of Jaclyn and traveled to nearly every game with us in our run to the NCAA Elite Eight that year before passing away that Spring. The fact that it has been three years and the Witeks still show up to mostly meaningless games in the spring really says a lot about their family and the special family atmosphere that Coach Lenahan has built at NU.
The actual games went about as expected as NU outclassed its opponents beating UW-Parkside 3-0 with the goals coming from Connor Holloway, Grant Wilson and Eric Weberman and besting UW-Whitewater 2-0 on goals from Reed Losee and Jarrett Baughman. While Northwestern won these games rather easily, anything can happen in soccer so it was important to come out focused and jump on lesser teams right away. Northwestern came out sharp and was up 2-0 on Parkside 10 minutes into the 60 minute exhibition and never looked back. While, a couple more finishes would have been ideal, getting two shut-outs and staying organized defensively is always the main concern in games like these. Coach Lenahan used the games to get everybody minutes to see what he has in some guys such as Peter Horner and Eric Weberman who may be thrust into bigger roles next season along with tuning up for next weekend's Chicago Cup.
The 'Cats played a slightly different formation than they trotted out last year playing a 4-4-2 with a diamond in the midfield rather than the 4-5-1 deployed last season to find solo target man, Oliver Kupe, up top. Lenahan lets his personnel dictate the formation to be played so, with Northwestern lacking elite size, but having superior technical ability it makes sense to try the diamond midfield where NU can keep possession of the ball and then allow outside backs and outside midfielders to beat their men and get to the end line and attack the near post. In this system, it is ever important to be composed on the ball and pick the right moments to attack. Once the flank players attack with speed, the end goal is to get service into the near post and have the forwards and central players get in front of their defender to get a flick on or try to finish. This was a successful formula on Saturday, but the true test will come next weekend when the Wildcats suit up against very formidable opponents in the rivalry tournament which will actually be covered by Fox Soccer Channel (not sure how/who pulled some strings to make that happen for a spring soccer tournament but should be interesting).
Three things I took away from the weekend:
1. My Expert Analysis -- We have better players than Division III teams.
2. Under Armour soccer cleats look like football cleats. I saw at least 2 players, Kyle Schickel and Baughman, rocking the new cleats that come with the move to Under Armour. While I'm very excited (and jealous) to see what Under Armour rolls out for Northwestern next year as their gear is top notch, it doesn't appear as though they have figured out soccer footwear yet and my big prediction for next season is the team will be protecting their lakeside house wearing mostly Nike and adidas cleats, not the team-issued Under Armour ones.
3. Everybody loves Lepe Seetane. The 5'2" guy gets mobbed everywhere he goes, and when I say mobbed, I mean like 4 or 5 little kids came up to him at the Women's Lax game on Friday night, but for a soccer player that's pretty impressive. Seetane will be featured when Fox Soccer Channel comes to Evanston next weekend.
--Northwestern kicks off the Chicago Cup at 3:30 PM on Saturday vs. DePaul and the winner of that game will take on the winner of UIC vs. Loyola at 7:15 PM that night to battle for Chicago soccer supremacy.