Northwestern’s Big Ten tournament run was stopped Wednesday at the semifinal stage by Indiana.
Coming off of a massive quarterfinal upset on penalty kicks at No. 10 Maryland, the ‘Cats just couldn’t keep that magic going, as they fell 1-0 in overtime at the hands of the 17th-ranked Hoosiers.
In the teams’ first meeting this season, Indiana prevailed 2-1, coming from behind after Northwestern took an early lead in front of home support. The Hoosiers defeated sixth-seeded Rutgers 1-0 in the quarterfinals, and entered the match sporting a 13-4-1 record.
As was to be expected, Indiana dominated possession from kick-off, while Northwestern looked to be defensively solid — a task made much easier with Miha Miskovic’s peak performance in goal — and waited for their chances to come on the break. Due to the contrasting styles of the two teams, the game reached a natural ebb-and-flow, and the first half was very evenly contested, with each side registering five attempts. The ‘Cats maintained a good defensive shape, and were able to quickly and effectively play their way up the pitch once they got the ball, taking advantage of the space Indiana afforded them in transition.
In the second half, however, it was a different story. The balance of the match began to shift further and further in the Hoosiers’ favor. The home side began to pile even more pressure on at the attacking end of the pitch, while the frailties in its transition defense were clearly fixed at halftime. They registered 13 shots, six of which were on target, but Miskovic remained a brick wall in NU’s goal, saving all of them.
Northwestern was unable to generate any attacking momentum throughout the second 45 minutes, but the scoreline remained knotted at 0-0. So, once again, the ‘Cats would have to either survive or thrive in sudden death overtime, or else their conference title hopes would be dashed.
The lack of attacking impetus did not last long into the first overtime period, and if not for some Miskovic-esque heroics from Indiana keeper Roman Celentano in the 94th minute, the ‘Cats would have booked their spot in the conference final.
As many know, soccer is often a cruel game, and, much of the time, you have to capitalize on the chances that you get. Just three minutes later, Northwestern was fed a massive helping of regret and disappointment.
Just like that, NU’s first season under Russell Payne was over, but not without reason for hope going forward. A conference tournament appearance and a win in that tournament were great building blocks for the years to come, and the ‘Cats have shown they can be competitive with anyone over the course of the last three months. As tough of an end to the year as the overtime loss was, there’s still plenty of optimism to be had about the direction this program is heading, so get on the bandwagon while you can before it’s full.