On a rainy, 40-degree night, head coach Tim Lenahan and his Northwestern Wildcats took on the Bradley Braves in the first round of the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Tournament.
When the final whistle blew, Bradley finished on top, winning 3-2 in an overtime thriller.
“It was a great college soccer match,” Lenahan said. “Lots of action, lots of opportunities, great goalkeeping, great defending, great goals.”
Starting the season with extremely high expectations, the ‘Cats were plagued by injuries to key players. They entered the tournament having lost three of their last four games, and their lack of momentum carried over to this game against Bradley. The team, however, was feeling good going into overtime.
“We’ve been to a number of overtime games this year and lost,” fifth-year senior Chris Ritter said. “A bunch of heartbreakers. So I think going into overtime, everyone was confident they could go all out and win.”
Ritter finished his productive career of 80 total games, 78 of which he started. He had 14 goals in his collegiate career.
Bradley put on pressure immediately in the first half. On the first shot of the game, the Braves hit the post, and shortly after, midfielder Scott Davis scored the first goal of the game in the sixth minute.
Just five minutes later, NU forward Nikko Boxall drilled one into the top left corner of the net, knotting the game up at one. Off of a corner kick in the 26th minute, Bradley forward Wojciech Wojcik headed in a shot, putting the Braves up 2-1.
In the second half, Northwestern came out and put on the pressure. While they mostly attacked with long, direct balls in the first half, they moved the ball more with their midfielders in the second.
After the first few minutes, however, play evened out. Northwestern and Bradley both finished with seven shots on goal.
Off of a set piece with 12:37 left to play, defenseman Grant Wilson put in the equalizer. Once that goal was put in, Northwestern turned up the heat even more on Bradley, but was not able to net the game winner. The game went to overtime.
"I don’t think there was any doubt in our mind that we were going to get that second goal,” Lenahan said. “And, I thought, maybe get the third in regulation as well.”
In overtime, Wojcik put in the golden goal with 3:13 left in the period, sending Bradley to the second round of the tournament and ending Northwestern’s season.
Bradley will face California on Nov. 24 in the second round of the tournament.
“I’m proud of the way this group stuck with it,” Lenahan said. “We never quit, in spite of all the things that went wrong this year in terms of injuries.”