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Men’s Soccer: Miha Miskovic’s goalkeeping masterclass powers ‘Cats into conference semifinals

You taking notes on how to win a penalty shootout, Gareth Southgate?

The Northwestern Wildcats upset No. 10 Maryland in penalties on Sunday to secure a spot in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.

After head coach Russell Payne’s College Park homecoming in October ended 3-1 in the Terps’ favor, Northwestern was able to get its revenge against second-seeded Maryland, due in large part to the man between the sticks: Miha Miskovic.

Maryland, with the backing of the home crowd, asserted itself early, notching the first attempt, attempt on target and corner of the match. NU withstood the early pressure, testing the Terrapin keeper a couple of times before the end of a relatively cagey first half.

For a while, the second period provided more of the same, with the home side controlling the flow of the game while the visitors tried to fashion a goal on the break. The Terrapins thought they had found the breakthrough in the 77th minute when Spencer Farina conceded a penalty, but the Serbian in Northwestern’s goal had other plans.

After Miskovic’s great save, Maryland turned up the pressure to another level and started to find their way through the Wildcat defense with ease. The NU keeper was called on to make three more saves in regulation time, including this absurd double save, while also seeing a shot ricochet of the woodwork.

With the scoreline still at a 0-0 deadlock after 90 minutes, the game headed into two 10-minute sudden death overtime periods. With heavy legs and tired minds setting in, neither side could really find its groove in overtime. Miskovic kept the ‘Cats in the game, as he made a save in each of the two periods, taking his tally on the day to 10.

Since the game was still tied after sudden death overtime, there was only one way this quarterfinal could be decided: a penalty shootout. The part of the sport where heroes are born and legends are made and where there’s just 12 yards between the penalty spot and the goal. It’s a definitive — and sometimes cruel and unforgiving — method to determine a winner.

The ‘Cats and Maryland traded misses to start proceedings, but the Terps took a 1-0 lead after two kicks apiece. Farina then got NU on the board, but Maryland also made its third to stay in the lead after three attempts. Northwestern would need a perfect last four shots to come away with victory, and, spoiler alert, that’s exactly what they got.

Richie Bennett brought things level at 2-2 before Miskovic saved Maryland’s fourth attempt. Rom Brown then stepped up and put the ‘Cats ahead 3-2, meaning that a spot in the semifinals would come down to the Terps’ fifth and final kick.

Although it wasn’t the 6-foot-3 graduate student in goal that came up big this time, it was his trusty friend, the left goalpost, that did.

The Big Ten semifinals are up next for Northwestern, as it will travel to Bloomington to face the third-seeded Indiana on November 10, with the winner moving on to the title game to face either Penn State or Michigan.