The Wildcat Men's Soccer team reports to preseason camp at exactly 12:01 AM on Thursday August 9th which means they will officially begin their first ever B1G title defense. With nine starters returning from the team that took the Double B1G, the team will certainly come into camp with what Head Coach Tim Lenahan would call a little "earned swagger". However, once preseason begins, last years' accomplishments go out the window and the team must begin to reinvent itself, replacing departed seniors Oliver Kupe and Peter O'Neill along with integrating seven new faces (six freshman & one transfer) that will account for nearly 30% of the roster into the team.
As things get ready to kick off tonight/this morning, I find myself simultaneously feeling nostalgic and ecstatic. I truly miss the nervous excitement knowing that the season was finally approaching after a long summer of preparation for the grueling fitness tests and physical Big Ten play upcoming. Nothing can replace the joy of the fall season as a B1G collegiate athlete and being with the guys in the locker room every day. Having said that, when the clock strikes midnight tonight, I will be happy to be laying in my bed, not partaking in "Midnight Madness" and doing the beep test when you would normally be at McFaddens, only to wake up 5 hours later to begin three-a-days. But, the miserable three-a-days, lack of sleep and numbing ice tubs are all worth it after each victory, which I’m sure was especially true for last years’ team culminating in the B1G championship. Now, with that and having been to two NCAA Elite Eights (2006 & 2008), the next step for the evolving program is to get to that elusive Final Four. Is this the year?
A trip to the Final Four may depend on whether or not the freshmen class can get assimilated to the college game quickly and make an impact, particularly on the attacking side of the ball. While the team will rely on the impressive group of returners overall, which I detailed position by position in the spring, the loss of Kupe makes it imperative for someone in the class to contribute some goals for what will almost certainly be an offense by committee unlike past successful NU teams who had one dominant scorer like a Kupe, Matt Eliason or Brad North.
This class of newcomers has some talent that can help, despite being left off of the College Soccer News Top Thirty Recruiting Classes Rankings. Two players from the class that I expect to step in right away are Cole Missimo of Dallas, TX and Joey Calistri, who played locally at Deerfield High, the same school as current players, Scott Lakin and Connor Holloway. I saw Missimo play at the NU summer camp last year and thought he was ready to play at the college level then. He has the rare combination of blazing speed and supreme technical ability that allows him to blow by defenders with ease. Coach Lenahan went as far as comparing him with all-time NU great, Dave Roth. Missimo elected to attend NU over the likes of soccer powerhouses, Wake Forest and SMU. Calistri reminds me a little bit of Eliason as someone who hasn't been hugely celebrated coming in, but could make a big impact as a pure goal scorer at this level. I am not saying he will break Eliason's all time goal-scoring record, by any means, but I could see him scoring a few timely goals this year that could go a long way in making a deep run in the NCAA tournament this fall.
With the experience coming back and promising freshmen, I've set the unofficial over/under win total at 11.5 of which I believe they will go over, topping the 11 wins of last year, and will get a bye in the first round of the NCAA tournament behind a strong RPI with out of conference games against perennial almost elite, but beatable teams, Notre Dame and South Carolina. In the process, I think sophomore GK Tyler Miller will tie Misha Rosenthal's 2008 shutout record with 13 and flirt with Generation adidas having a talented, battle-tested defense in front of him. I predict a staunch defense and very deep midfield will lead the team to a 2nd place finish in the B1G regular season and will keep the tournament title in Evanston as the host. In the end, I believe the team's lack of a go-to scorer will derail the NCAA tournament run in the Sweet 16, but the Final Four certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility.
The 'Cats will start the journey when they travel to Ocean City, NJ(where the team goes every other year) this preseason for a couple exhibition games and a week of team bonding on the shore. The freshmen will have to get acclimated in a hurry with the first preseason game coming up in NJ in less than a week. The Wildcats have their season opener August 25th when they host Xavier and former NU assistant coach Andy Fleming, who is now the head coach of the Muskateers.
The Northwestern Men's Soccer team comes into the season ranked 20th in the National poll. The team can be seen early and often in its quest to defend their B1G title and reach the Final Four for the first time with 10 regular season matches at Lakeside Field and four games to be televised nationally on The Big Ten Network in addition to hosting the B1G tournament this year. The full schedule is available here with TV games noted.
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