Just over two weeks ago, the Northwestern women’s soccer team’s (7-7-1, 3-4-1 B1G) future was bright. The Wildcats had just capped off a four-game unbeaten streak with a solid 2-1 win against Nebraska, and were tied for third place in the Big Ten. Unfortunately, any good karma the ‘Cats experienced during their impressive first half of conference play has run out.
The momentum from Northwestern’s reassuring win against Nebraska should have been enough for the ‘Cats to bring their A-game against the No. 35 RPI ranked Indiana Hoosiers. Their third and final matchup in a lengthy stretch of home games at Martin Stadium, the Wildcats could not manage to see this one through, dropping a 1-0 loss to IU.
The ‘Cats were able to hold off the Hoosiers strong attacking front for the majority of the first half until a foul outside the box allowed Indiana’s Megan Wampler to capitalize off a free-kick and beat keeper Mackenzie Wood for a header goal in the 43rd minute of play. Despite a late effort by Mari Annest that sailed just over the top left corner of Indiana’s net, Northwestern was unable to even the score and settled for a loss. The Wildcats were outshot 10 to five, and of their five shots, they were only able to put two on frame. Additionally, Northwestern was called for a sizable 13 fouls compared to IU’s four in what was a physical, yet somewhat sloppy matchup for the ‘Cats.
Next up, NU hit the road for a meeting with the No. 24 RPI ranked Badgers in Madison. While they held strong defensively for the majority of the contest, it was the inability of the offensive front to create chances that ultimately caused the loss for Northwestern. Despite 17 shots from Wisconsin in the first 90 minutes, a combination of scrappy play from the back four and seven saves from Wood eventually pushed the matchup into extra time.
Nonetheless, there was little Michael Moynihan’s tired Northwestern side could do to stop the Badger counter-attack when a turnover quickly turned into a curling goal from outside Wood’s box just 30 seconds after the overtime whistle. The Wildcats failed to put a shot on goal the entire contest and returned home defeated, yet ready to prepare for their next matchup against Minnesota.
At this point, Northwestern had dropped to seventh place in the Big Ten which was still within range of a conference tournament appearance. In order to remain in contention, they would need at least a tie against the Golden Gophers. The matchup against UMN was strength-on-strength — the Wildcats’ pride rested in their defensive play while Minnesota was (and still is) an offensive powerhouse coming off a 5-0 win versus Illinois. Unfortunately for Northwestern, it was the Gophers’ day.
The Wildcats looked controlled and calm in the first 15 minutes of play, confidently playing the ball out of the back and resetting when needed. However, Minnesota quickly increased its offensive pressure, and balls from NU’s defensive half became frantic plays in an attempt to force the attention forward and away from its own box. A goal from Minnesota’s Makenzie Langdok in the 21st minute and the inability of Northwestern to put together any threatening attack throughout the contest eventually led to a 1-0 loss for the ‘Cats.
Few individual highlights came out of this three game stretch as Northwestern’s attack struggled to create chances. With the loss to Minnesota dropping the Wildcats even further down in the Big Ten rankings, Moynihan and Co. can’t afford to lose either of their final two regular season games if they want a shot at a postseason appearance. And, even if they do manage to win out, other pieces out of their control may have to fall into place to secure a conference tournament spot for the ‘Cats.
Northwestern’s second-to-last regular season matchup at Purdue is slated to kick-off Thursday at 7 p.m. CT and will be televised on the Big Ten Network. After that, the Wildcats will close their regular season slate at home against Ohio State at 1 p.m. CT on Sunday.