Nick’s Knacks: A step back

By Nicholas Guiang

Where oh where has the defense gone?

The absence of Garrett Opperman was once again apparent as Northwestern fell to a subpar Ohio State squad Sunday afternoon 4-2.

When Northwestern men’s soccer took on Indiana last week, the ‘Cats looked quick, physical and clinical, but those qualities vanished over the weekend.

I’ll give them this, they went up early off another Ugo Achara Jr. goal, his fourth in three matches. Named Top Drawer Player of the Week last week, Achara has been phenomenal as Northwestern’s premier striker. His speed and physicality have set him apart and have given Northwestern a much needed offensive outlet that it has lacked over the past couple seasons. When he takes defenders on and finds space in the box off of crosses, Achara is at his best, but even with such an exciting and fierce frontline, Northwestern has found another way to struggle.

Unlike its 1-0 win over Indiana, Northwestern looked penetrable and open in the backfield. While the defense played well for much the first half, the next 45 felt as though the flood gates had opened as Ohio State scored three more before the final whistle. 

It has been shocking how easily the ‘Cats’ defense has been beaten in their two losses this year. Even more so is the noticeable absence of senior and veteran center back, Garrett Opperman. Over the past three years, Opperman has been a staple in Northwestern’s backline. He has led with an iron fist and a commanding voice as he bullied Big Ten forwards and kept clean sheet after clean sheet. He consistently started and was arguably the Wildcats’ most valuable defender if not player, but since the beginning of this season, not only has Opperman not started a game, but he has only played 74 total minutes. In 2019, Opperman logged 18/18 starts and over 1500 minutes. So, where has he gone? Where is his head at?

When I spoke to Coach Lenahan at the beginning of the season, he mentioned that Opperman had been struggling over the past year with the pandemic and maintaining fitness, but you would think once the season got underway, he would push past those struggles. I mean, he’s an experienced defender and leader and knows what is expected of him, but this absence and almost removal from the squad is confusing and down right worrisome.

With the loss of such a leader, it is no wonder that the Cats have struggled to hold a clean sheet. In Sunday’s loss to the Buckeyes, it was a sad sight after taking down a ranked Indiana. 

While I still maintain a lot of hope in this Wildcat team as they look to knock off a tough Michigan State team later this week, the backline continues to look vulnerable. While there has been valiant leadership in Julian Zieghelboim, and surprising composure of sophomore Deng Deng Kur, Northwestern dearly misses the leadership and presence of Senior Garrett Opperman.