Northwestern Men’s Soccer Season Recap

By Brendan Preisman

Northwestern men’s soccer suffered their third consecutive losing season this past year thanks to struggles on both the offensive and defensive sides.

There was some optimism heading into the season after Northwestern nearly stunned Indiana in the Big Ten tournament semifinals in 2021. However, the defense struggled without Miha Miskovic manning the net come the season.

Graduate student Christian Garner took over goalkeeping duties, but struggled early, giving up three goals to Chicago State in a season-opening draw. He did turn in a strong performance against Florida Gulf Coast with eight saves, but his one slip-up proved to be the deciding factor in a game where Northwestern rarely reached the attacking third.

That game marked the first of four straight contests in which the Wildcats were shut out. Garner’s six-save game against Loyola Chicago helped salvage a draw, but Villanova and Western Michigan beat the ‘Cats by a combined score of 7-0.

As the calendar reached further into September, the offense began turning a corner. In just their second multi-goal game of the season, the offense scored in the first six minutes of both halves en route to a 2-1 defeat of Houston Baptist. 

While the multi-goal trend continued against Rutgers, the winning did not. Paul Walters had started in goal against Houston Baptist, and started once again to open conference play. Unfortunately for him, Rutgers was a much tougher matchup and he gave up four goals in a 4-1 defeat.

The Big Ten home opener was no better for the Wildcats. Garner was back in goal and performed poorly in a 3-1 loss to Michigan, then gave up four more goals in a 4-1 shellacking at the hands of Indiana. 

The conference losing streak was finally snapped with a 2-2 draw against #20 Penn State. Ethan Dudley, the team’s leading scorer on the year with four goals, had a key second half strike against the Nittany Lions to draw the Wildcats level.

That positive momentum was continued thanks to a draw with #8 Maryland, who at the time was 9-1-3. Freshman forward Christopher Thaggard scored the first goal of his collegiate career in the 60th minute, and when the dust cleared, Northwestern had tied two consecutive ranked opponents.

The good times continued to roll with a dominant 3-1 victory over Northern Illinois. Three different Wildcats scored, including Dudley and Jason Gajadhar off the bench, and Walters had a career-best six saves.

Unfortunately for Northwestern fans, that was the high-water mark of the season. A 79th minute penalty kick by Ohio State handed the Wildcats their first loss in nearly three weeks, and the late loss clearly halted the team’s upward momentum.

The Ohio State loss was followed by a comeback draw against a Milwaukee team that failed to finish in the top 200 in RPI. Following that game, the ‘Cats were shut out on Senior Day by Wisconsin. That game saw Northwestern tally just eight shots, while Wisconsin totaled 16.

Dudley kept the Wildcats’ season alive with his fourth goal of the season, a late penalty kick against Michigan State. The ‘Cats went on to win 2-1, ensuring that Northwestern would advance to the Big Ten tournament as the eighth overall seed.

The postseason run was short-lived, as the Wildcats ran into a Maryland team preparing for a run to the NCAA tournament. The Terrapins smothered Northwestern, allowing just five shots all game long in a 1-0 Maryland victory. 

Two of those shots came in the first 15 minutes of the game, but Maryland goalkeeper Niklas Neumann stood strong. A Maryland goal in the 76th minute proved fatal to the Wildcats’ hopes.

While the season ended in a disappointing manner, there is hope for 2023. Key contributors like Gajadhar, Thaggard, Justin Weiss and Dudley are all coming back, and the goalkeeping should be improved after a long offseason. With the first three games of the season all against teams in the bottom 50 in RPI, there’s good reason to expect a hot start for the Wildcats.