Last time we checked in with the men’s soccer team, Head Coach Russell Payne had experienced his “Welcome to the Big Ten” moment. Two weeks later, the Big Ten has had its “Welcome to Russell Payne’s Northwestern” moment, as the ‘Cats picked up their first conference win under Payne.
Northwestern played three more matches in the last 14 days and emerged victorious in their contests against Chicago rival DePaul and conference foe Ohio State, while Payne’s homecoming in College Park against his alma mater, No. 12 Maryland, didn’t go as well as he would’ve hoped.
To kick things off, DePaul (5-2-0) paid a visit to Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium on September 29. The ‘Cats, as is their M.O. these days, got off to an electric start. In the 16th minute, Vicente Castro whipped a great ball onto Spencer Farina’s head in the box, and the graduate student nodded the ball past the Blue Demons’ keeper. Northwestern held the 1-0 lead into the second half before Justin Weiss, or Just Worldies, as I have now dubbed him, took matters into his own hands. What a strike!
Northwestern would take the 2-0 scoreline to the final whistle, breaking a five-game winless skid and picking up a victory over another local rival.
Next up for the ‘Cats was Ohio State (4-4-1), who, like Northwestern, was also winless in conference play coming into the match, so, one way or another, one team was breaking their duck at the conclusion of the match. The standout performance of the game belonged to NU goalie Miha Miskovic, who weathered wave after wave of attacks from the Buckeyes, finishing the match with 6 saves. Miskovic kept the ‘Cats in the game for the first 85 minutes, before Jose Del Valle created the decisive moment. The Spanish forward turned the ball over in the midfield, started a counter-attack, and found that man, Justin Weiss, once again. Weiss fired a laser beam across the face of the goal and into the bottom corner.
Just a look at the celebrations and it’s glaringly obvious how much that goal meant to the entire team. The ‘Cats would see out the last few minutes of the match, giving Coach Payne his first conference win as NU’s manager and building up a little two game win streak in the process. Additionally, this win pulled Northwestern out of last place in the Big Ten standings, with Ohio State being the unlucky recipient of that position.
Carrying some momentum now, the ‘Cats headed to the East Coast to face No. 12 Maryland in a game that had multiple layers of storylines involved. On the surface, this was just a regular conference matchup that the Terps would be expected to win given their national pedigree, but a quick glance at the man patrolling the NU sideline revealed a deeper meaning to the contest. Payne played goalie for the Terrapins during the 90s, and now, 25 years on from his graduation, returned to manage against his alma mater. The game couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for the ‘Cats, as Vicente Castro put Northwestern up 1-0 in the first 15 minutes, punishing poor play from the Maryland defense.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie too many times before with this team, and, despite jumping out to the early lead, the Wildcats were not able to hold the line. The Terps brought the game level ten minutes before halftime and then put themselves up 2-1 three minutes into the second half. The Terrapins would add a third before all was said and done, and the match would end up being a 3-1 defeat for Northwestern.
The ‘Cats have a full week off before facing Rutgers this Friday at home, as they hope to bounce back from a tough loss.