Season Recap: Men’s Soccer
By Viktor Ostlund
Overall Record: 6-9-3 (3-5 Big Ten)
Home Record: 4-3-1
Away Record: 2-6-2
The Northwestern’s Men’s Soccer team showed great improvement throughout head coach Russell Payne’s first season at the helm of the program.
The Wildcats opened the season on the wrong foot, losing 2-1 at Chicago State and drawing 0-0 at the University of Illinois Chicago in late August. The first wins of the season did not come until early September when junior Eric Smits scored a late header in a 1-0 win at Loyola Chicago and the team put four goals past Kansas City in an emphatic 4-1 win in the season opener at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium.
The ‘Cats would not get back to the win column for another three weeks as they followed up a 0-0 tie against Utah Valley with four straight losses to Xavier, Penn State, No. 11 Indiana and Michigan. Against both Penn State and Indiana, Northwestern led 1-0 early before giving up a pair of second half goals.
A 2-0 home win against DePaul seemed to light a spark for the ‘Cats, who saw far greater success in the second half of the season. In a 1-0 win at Ohio State, sophomore Justin Weiss cemented his spot as the ‘Cats most dangerous forward and primary goals contributor with an 86th minute strike that sent Northwestern’s bench into a frenzy.
Consecutive losses on the road at Maryland and at home to Rutgers were disappointing but the ‘Cats finished the season on a positive note with Big Ten wins against Wisconsin and Michigan State on either side of a loss to non-conference opponent Villanova. Justin Weiss notched two goals while Vicente Castro and Jose del Valle each contributed two assists in the exciting 3-1 senior day win against Michigan State. An energizing finish to the season and strong 3-2 conference record in October earned the ‘Cats a Big Ten tournament quarterfinal matchup against Maryland in College Park – a matchup that would turn out to be the undeniable highlight of the season.
Facing off against the tournament two seed and 10th-ranked team in the nation, Northwestern showed tremendous heart on the road against the Terrapins. Despite giving up twenty shots, a Northwestern backline led by Deng Deng Kur, Spencer Farina, and Quinn Dudek blanked Maryland’s offense through ninety minutes and multiple overtime periods. Miha Miskovic, who finished with a career-high ten saves, kept Northwestern’s season alive multiple times in the second half, including a vital penalty kick save on Maryland’s Jacen Russell-Rowe in the 80th minute. After two scoreless overtime periods, the game would go to penalty kicks, where Miskovic shined even brighter. Farina, Richie Bennett, and Rom Brown scored their penalty kicks and Miskovic stopped two of Maryland’s attempts as the Wildcats pulled off the shock upset in College Park.
In the Big Ten tournament semifinals they faced another ranked team in the Indiana Hoosiers. Miskovic and the rest of the Northwestern backline put forth a resolute defensive effort for more than ninety minutes but the Hoosiers broke through in overtime for a 1-0 win, dashing Northwestern’s hopes of a trip to the Big Ten tournament final.
Looking forward to next season, ‘Cats fans should be excited about Payne’s second year in charge. The team finished 2021 on a strong note and top scorers Weiss, Castro and Brown, who combined for 12 goals and 11 assists over the season, will all be back in Evanston. Collin McCamy, who impressed as a first-year, will look to anchor the center of midfield again with Brown and alongside Bardia Kimiavi out on the wing.
It’s defensively and in net where Payne will have questions to answer. Of the three consistent members of the backline last season (Kur, Farina and Dudek) only Kur will return. Miskovic and Ethan Bandre, the only goalkeepers who saw significant minutes in 2021, have graduated and are playing professionally for Chicago Fire II and Sporting Kansas City II respectively. That means Kevin Klausz (rising senior), Christian Garner (graduate student transfer) and Paul Walters (incoming first-year) will compete for the starting job in goal.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of next season is the strength of the incoming first-year class. As of May 2022, topdrawersoccer.com had Northwestern’s 2022 recruiting class ranked number five in the country.Northwestern opens its regular season on Aug. 25 at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium against Chicago State. The team will then play its Big Ten home opener against Michigan on Sept. 23 and a challenging home game against Maryland, the NSCAA preseason No. 4-ranked team in the country, on Oct. 9.