2022 Northwestern Men’s Soccer MVP: Ethan Dudley

By Brendan Preisman

It was a rough season for the men’s soccer team, which tallied its fewest wins in a full season since 2001. Of the Wildcats’ nine losses, five were by multiple goals. However, there were still a few bright spots, none brighter than Ethan Dudley.

The graduate transfer joined the Wildcats’ defense after a stellar four-year career at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he won the 2020 Atlantic Sun Conference Defensive Player of the Year. After starting in just 13 matches his senior year, the defender elected to take his talents to Evanston for his final year of collegiate play. 

While the 6’4” Dudley failed to register on the stat sheet at first, his impact could be felt. The Wildcats held his former team, FGCU, to one goal in a narrow loss, then earned a scoreless draw against Loyola Chicago. The team was 0-3-2 through their first five games, but it was not for lack of effort on Dudley’s part. 

That effort would pay off in the victory over Houston Baptist, Northwestern’s first win of the season. Dudley earned the second assist of his collegiate career in the 2-1 victory after a fifth-minute header found its way to Andrew Stevens, who powered it home for the lead. In the next match, Dudley scored his first goal of the season to equalize against Rutgers in what would become a 4-2 defeat.

Despite being listed as a defender, Dudley was commonly in or near the goal box on many attacking occasions, especially set pieces and corner kicks. He next showed up on the stat sheet in a stunning draw of then-No. 20 Penn State on October 2. In the 53rd minute, with the Wildcats down 2-1, Dudley retrieved a poor clear attempt and fired the ball home from the top of the box to tie the game. The goal helped Northwestern draw against a ranked team for the first time since 2021.

Dudley would add another goal two games later in a 3-1 romp over NIU. This time, the goal came off a free kick in the 64th minute that broke a 1-1 deadlock. The goal also tied Dudley for the team lead with three on the season, and helped provide Northwestern with its first win since the victory over Houston Baptist, exactly one month prior. 

He continued to help provide the team with a spark when the game was within reach, as he did against Milwaukee a week after the NIU victory. The Wildcats were once again down a goal in the second half when Dudley elected to fix the score himself. His powerful kick into the box deflected off the Milwaukee goalkeeper, but Joseph Arena came flying in to shoot the redirected ball into the net and tie up the game. Dudley was credited with the assist, and the draw was the fourth instance in a five-game span of Northwestern either earning a draw or a win.

Dudley saved his biggest heroics for the last regular season game of the season. Northwestern sat at 2-8-5 overall on the year and needed to defeat Michigan State on October 30 in order to clinch a spot in the Big Ten tournament. After the Spartans opened the scoring in the ninth minute, Northwestern’s postseason hopes seemed all but dead. Luckily for the Wildcats, they were able to equalize five minutes later and went into the locker rooms at halftime with a 1-1 tie. However, that wouldn’t be enough. With a record of 0-5-2 in conference play, Northwestern had to win to keep playing.

Dudley, of course, was the man who ensured victory. In the 81st minute, Northwestern earned a penalty, and Dudley was the man to take it. He powered the ball into the right corner of the net to give Northwestern the lead for the first time in the game. Nine minutes later, time ran out on the Spartans, ensuring that Northwestern earned not only a conference victory, but a spot in the conference tournament as well. 

While Northwestern lost in the first round to a Maryland team that they had tied earlier in the year, the 1-0 loss was not the fault of Dudley. He started the game, as he had done for each of the previous 16 contests, and played the entire way, as he did for 15 of those first 16 affairs. He didn’t register in the box score, but the team captain gave it his all until the final whistle of the season.

The individual stats are, of course, spectacular. Dudley led the team in goals with four and points with 10, thanks to a pair of assists (which tied him for second on the team). Dudley also started all 17 games, the only Wildcat to do so, and played a mind-boggling 1,522 minutes, nearly 200 more than anyone else on the team. His steady consistency was a major factor in keeping the team afloat during a down season.

After the season ended, Dudley departed for the professional game, signing a contract with Charlotte FC of the MLS. He will play for the team’s MLS Next Pro affiliate, Crown Legacy FC. Meanwhile, some of the same players who witnessed Dudley’s consistency up close last season, like Brandon Clagette, Nigel Prince, and Ibrahim Obeid, have used that lesson to improve their own games. Their defensive tenacity, improved partially thanks to the mentorship of Dudley, has brought this year’s Wildcats squad a 5-0-1 start.