Happy summer! All summer long (once a week), we’ll be previewing either a Northwestern fall sport or one of Northwestern football’s twelve regular season matchups. Last week: women’s soccer

Overview

Last season, Northwestern men’s soccer mustered a 6-11-1 overall record, finishing tied for sixth in the Big Ten with a 3-4-1 conference record.

Despite the lackluster finish in the Big Ten, the Wildcats did prevail with some impressive results against good teams throughout the season. They took Florida Gulf Coast (who finished 36th in RPI) and Notre Dame (No. 13), shut out Indiana (No. 16) in a scoreless draw and battled Denver (No. 6) to a close 2-1 loss. These games showed promise for a Wildcats team that often lacked the offensive firepower — Northwestern finished last in shots per game and second last in goals per game in the Big Ten — to compete in a strong Big Ten conference.

Northwestern will lose some important seniors, but the highs of last season along with a robust incoming class of freshman under head coach Tim Lenahan, make Northwestern a prime candidate to put together a winning record and push into the top half of the conference in 2017.

Key Losses

Northwestern graduates seven seniors from the 2016 squad: Brandon Medina, Drew Rosenberg, Willis Griffith, Nathan Dearth, Mike Roberge, Getanet Tuji and Jeffrey Hopson.

Griffith, Hopson, Dearth, and Roberge were the top four field players in minutes last season, respectively. Griffith and Dearth anchored the back line, while Hopson controlled the pace of play in the center of the park and Roberge sparked the offense, taking 38 shots, nearly double the next closest player (22).

Medina, who only started eight games due to injury, was Northwestern’s default offensive creator, or “number 10,” while he was on the field. He led the team with four goals despite being 14th in minutes played on the team. Medina scored two game-winning goals, as did Roberge.

Between the offensive production of Hopson, Roberge, and Medina and the defensive consistency of Dearth and Griffith, the 2017 squad will have some big boots to fill.

Returning Squad

In 2017, Northwestern’s offense will go through big man Elo Ozumba up top. NU’s number 9 is exactly that: a physical center forward who holds up play well and serves as an aerial threat with his 6-foot-2, 180 pound frame. The rising senior was second on the team last year in goals (3), shots (22), and shots on goal (9). With threats like Medina and Roberge gone, Ozumba will have to shoulder the offensive load, and he has shown the talent to suggest he can do just that next season.

Supporting Ozumba from the midfield will be a mixed cast of characters. Riley Kelliher and Camden Buescher both played well bombing forward on the wings last year, and will be key players due to their pace and ability to find crosses for Ozumba. In the center, the solid Shannon Seymour will hold and the dynamic Sam Forsgren will attack and create for the ‘Cats. Depending on what formation Tim Lenahan chooses to use, there could be another midfielder in the mix like Matt Moderwell or Sean Lynch, or a second forward in the form of Mac Mazzola or Ty Seager.

In the back, Lenahan uncovered two gems last year in rising sophomores Andrew McLeod and Mattias Tomasino, who averaged the 12th and 6th-most minutes on the team, respectively, as freshmen. Those two will power a back line that will rotate through a lot of new faces with the losses of Dearth and Griffith, who played almost every minute last year.

Senior Francisco Tomasino will return between the pipes in the fall. He posted a solid 72.4 save percentage, but his goals against average was 1.58 and he only earned one shutout on the season. The 6-foot-4 senior has the number one shirt for now, but Northwestern will need him to improve his performance if it wants to compete in the Big Ten.

Key Additions

Northwestern will add six incoming freshman from the class of 2021 this fall.

“I really like the balance of this class,” Lenahan said in an interview with NUSports.com. “We have added a top goalkeeper, three very good attacking players and a solid defensive midfielder and a left footed central defender.”

The goalkeeper is Miha Miskovic, a Serbian national who also played in the Chicago Fire academy. The top recruit’s best quality is his footwork and distribution according to Lenahan.

Headlining the attackers is Drew Viscomi of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. He is currently in the running for the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Boys Soccer Player of the Year after being nominated by USA TODAY High School Sports. The dynamic attacker is good with both feet and has electric pace.

Miskovic and Viscomi stand out from the freshman class, but all six signees look like they will provide great play for Northwestern in the coming years. They also have potential to play lots of minutes in 2017, as they come in at positions where the ‘Cats lack depth, such as attacking midfield, central defense, and goalkeeeper.

You can read more about the incoming class here.

Prediction

Northwestern will likely struggle early in the season with the loss of leaders like Medina and Hopson from last year. However, those struggles will prove to be be temporary as an experienced midfield will create lots of chances for Ozumba & Co. up front. Northwestern will drop some important games in the Big Ten due to lack of defensive cohesion and experience, but the Wildcats will undoubtedly pull out a few gutsy wins.

My prediction: 7-8-3 overall, 3-3-2 in B1G play, good for 5th place in the conference.

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