Season Recap: Men’s Soccer

By Viktor Ostlund

In Tim Lenahan’s final season as head coach, Northwestern started strong but struggled down the stretch.
Season Statistics

Overall Record: 2-8-1

Home Record: 1-3-1

Away Record: 1-5

Most Goals: Ugo Achara Jr. (5)

Most Assists: Vicente Castro & Spencer Farina (4)

Most Minutes: Spencer Farina (995)

Season Overview

In a game rather emblematic of their season as a whole and the nature of sports postponed thanks to a pandemic, the Wildcats opened their 2020 season on Feb. 19, 2021, against Michigan at home. The game was not played in Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium but inside Ryan Fieldhouse as single-digit temperatures and a frozen Lake Michigan loomed outside. The Wildcats scored early through first-year Joseph Arena but eventually fell 4-1 after a flurry of goals from the Wolverines spelled defeat for Tim Lenahan in the opener of his final season at the helm of Northwestern Men’s Soccer. In many ways, this loss to Michigan was a microcosm of the team’s season at large and an indicator of what was to come as fresh faces made a significant impact and the team started strong but struggled down the stretch.

Despite a loss in their opener to Michigan, Tim Lenahan’s side exploded for five goals in the following game at Wisconsin. Season standout Ugo Achara Jr. scored his first two goals of the season in the first half as the Wildcats marched to a 5-2 victory. Northwestern followed up their win in Madison with a dramatic 1-0 home win against #7 Indiana, a team they hadn’t beaten since the 2011 Big Ten Tournament. Undoubtedly the highlight of the season, Achara Jr. found the back of the net in the 88th minute. Deng Deng Kur redirected a long throw from graduate transfer Spencer Farina toward Achara Jr., who scored following a scramble in the box. Achara Jr., after a week with three goals and an assist, would win’s award for national player of the week. Wildcat goalkeeper Miha Miskovic won the Big Ten’s defensive player of the week award for his clean sheet and five save performance against the 7th ranked Hoosiers.

Unfortunately for Northwestern, this thrilling win against a talented Indiana side would be the last win of the season and of Lenahan’s coaching career. As a whole, Northwestern started the season off well but struggled down the stretch. The same could be said for individual games, as Northwestern dropped several points throughout the season from poor second-half performances. Northwestern lost leads against Ohio State (4-2 loss) and Wisconsin (1-1 tie) before falling 1-0 to Penn State in overtime after a strong ninety-minute defensive performance. Over the course of the season, opponents outscored NU 6-5 in first halves but 17-6 in second halves and overtime. Similarly, the Wildcats took only one point from their final seven matches after opening the season with two wins in three games. Northwestern’s shortened season and Lenahan’s coaching career ended with a 3-0 loss at Indiana in the Big Ten tournament.

Despite a disappointing end to a promising season that saw the Wildcats ranked inside the top 25 after their Indiana victory, there was much to be appreciated, including the coaching career of Lenahan, who announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season. 

MVP: Ugo Achara Jr.

Second-year Ugo Achara Jr. recorded national honors in a season that saw him emerge as Northwestern’s best player and biggest goal-scoring threat. Achara Jr. led the team in points (11) and was the only Wildcat to score multiple goals (5), good for second in the Big Ten in the regular season. A strong and skilled striker, Achara Jr. also shone in the brightest moments, tallying two game-winning goals against Indiana and Wisconsin, Northwestern’s only two wins of the season. His bicycle kick goal against Wisconsin spoke for itself.

Key Contributors: Vicente Castro & Spencer Farina

After claiming a starting spot for himself in the middle of the 2019 season, second-year Vicente Castro has not looked back. Starting 9-of-11 games this year, Castro finished second on the team in points (6) and was tied with Spencer Farina for the team lead in assists (4). Castro played the majority of games last season as a central midfielder but played more of his minutes on the wing this season.

A graduate transfer from Notre Dame, Farina did just about everything for this Northwestern side. Starting every game for Lenahan, the defender led the team in minutes (995) but finished the season with four assists and registered one shot on goal.

First-Year Stars: Rom Brown & Joseph Arena

Rom Brown, who originates from Hod Hasharon, Israel, served three years in the Israeli Defense Forces before arriving at Northwestern as a first-year this season. He impressed tremendously. Starting all 11 games and logging 817 minutes, Brown played primarily as a defensive midfielder but recorded a goal against Maryland and an assist against Wisconsin. Brown was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.

Joseph Arena was Northwestern’s newest attacking threat, providing a much-needed offensive spark. Arena scored his lone goal of the season in the opening game but finished tied-third on the team in points after recording three assists in the remaining 10 games of the season.

Tim Lenahan’s Farewell

In early November 2020, Lenahan announced that he would be retiring at the conclusion of the 2021 soccer season (postponed from the fall). The winningest coach in Northwestern Men’s Soccer history (155 wins), Lenahan steered the program to new heights during his twenty years in Evanston. Lenahan’s teams made nine NCAA tournament appearances during his tenure and won consecutive Big Ten regular-season titles in 2011 and 2012. Lenahan has coached several players who have gone on to play at the professional level, including current Minnesota United FC goalkeeper Tyler Miller. All in all, it is safe to say that Lenahan has made a lasting impact on the Northwestern Men’s Soccer program. It was announced in early May that Russell Payne, former Army Men’s Soccer head coach, would be taking over for Lenahan.