Head Coach Tim Lenahan wanted to make one thing perfectly clear after his Northwestern Wildcats knocked off DePaul 1-0 on Wednesday night. Whenever the Blue Demons come to town, it means something.
“Any time you can beat DePaul, which is a derby, the records don’t matter,” Lenahan said. “This is a very difficult opponent for us.”
Northwestern took care of business against their crosstown rivals, using a balanced offensive attack and smothering defense to overcome the Blue Demons through 90 hard-fought minutes at Lakeside Field. Junior midfielder Cole Missimo scored the winner at the start of the second half and the ‘Cats hung on from there to get the win. It was Missimo’s third goal of the year and his second game-winner. He also scored the deciding goal against Valparaiso last week.
“I’ve struggled my first two years putting goals in the net,” Missimo said. “It finally feels like my year.”
Both teams traded opportunities early in the game, but it was the ‘Cats who got the better chances in the first half. Freshman Sam Forsgren and senior Nikko Boxall both put shots wide in the first half as Northwestern dominated possession. Goalkeeper Tyler Miller wasn’t tested as the ‘Cats defense held firm and provided their strikers with multiple opportunities to score.
It was a different story in the second half. After sustaining offensive pressure to start the half, the Wildcats were rewarded with their first and only goal of the night. It came from Missimo, who found a little space and slotted one past DePaul goalkeeper Mack Robinson to give the ‘Cats a 1-0 lead.
It was all the offense they would need.
As they have all season, the Wildcats found a way to win with defense. They maintained possession and prevented DePaul from establishing any sort of offensive rhythm. Northwestern wasn’t perfect (one shot got behind Miller and trickled just wide in the waning minutes), but they did a nice job limiting DePaul’s scoring opportunities. And with Miller—a two-time Big Ten defensive player of the week—in goal, a nice job may be all the ‘Cats defense has to do this season.
The win gives the ‘Cats some momentum as they get into the heart of their Big Ten schedule. They will travel to Bloomington to take on perennial power Indiana on Sunday.
“They’re the most storied program in college soccer history,” Lenahan said. “We know Indiana’s out there.”
Cole “Captain Clutch” Missimo: It was another game, another game-winner for the Wildcats midfielder. Missimo has been on an offensive tear lately and his second-half goal proved to be the difference in the ‘Cats 1-0 victory. Missimo also scored the winning goal last week against Valpo and has become a guy Northwestern can turn to in crunch time.
Tyler Miller: Northwestern has not allowed a goal in their last 307 minutes of soccer. Let that sink in. That’s longer than the Wolf of Wall Street and the movie Lincoln. It’s more time than you would need to walk from campus to Chicago and back. It’s a really really long time. While Tyler Miller wasn’t asked to do much tonight, he stepped up when the ‘Cats needed him most. With six shutouts this season, Miller has found himself in elite company, and as long as he keeps this streak going, it’s going to be hard keeping him off this list.
The Fans: While Lakeside Field may not have been rocking like it was last Wednesday night against Valpo, the game still had a fun atmosphere due to a large contingent of Evanston residents who made the game a fun place to be. Lots of families were in attendance and they cheered hard for their Wildcats. Every miss elicited oohs and ahhs from the crowd and when Missimo finally found the back of the net, the place erupted.
Finishing chances: It hardly mattered tonight with the defense playing so well, but Northwestern was unable to finish off a few chances that could’ve come back to haunt them against a better opponent. Both Forsgren and Boxall had nice opportunities to score in the first half, but failed to slot them home. Against Big Ten foes like Indiana and Penn State, the ‘Cats must be more clinical.
Offensive pressure: The ‘Cats offense was a little disjointed tonight and they failed to sustain pressure throughout the game. Too often, Northwestern managed only one or two shots that sailed wide and failed to really challenge DePaul except for Missimo’s winner. They’ll need to be better against Indiana on Sunday.
Throwing stuff into the stands: I don’t want to say the kids who threw soccer balls into the stands as part of a pregame promotion were aiming at me but…let’s just say those guys weren’t missing by much.