Northwestern soccer players will tell you they should have won Thursday night's first-round matchup in the NCAA Tournament, and they'd be right. But despite out-shooting the visiting SIU-Edwardsville Cougars 16-9 and controlling the majority of possession throughout the match, Northwestern fell 1-0 on a cold night at Lakeside Field.
The loss likely left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Wildcats, who came into the game ranked 17th in the nation by the NCAA. The defeat also marked the final chapter in the distinguished careers of seniors Tyler Miller and Nikko Boxall, the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, respectively.
Neither team threatened much in the first half, as both sides combined for just five shots, but after the break, the offenses heated up. In the 61st minute, sophomore forward Mike Roberge lofted a corner kick into the box, after which three Northwestern attackers attempted shots on goal, all blocked by Cougar defenders. The ball bounced around among a sea of bodies inside the box before being cleared away.
Just 10 minutes later, junior forward Joey Calistri – Northwestern's leading goal-scorer – received a through pass and attempted a shot from a difficult angle, almost along the goal line, but SIU-Edwardsville keeper Kyle Dal Santo deflected the shot, which hit off the post and back into Dal Santo's arms.
Minutes later, Boxall made a successful slide tackle in the Northwestern box, but he mistakenly knocked the ball forward to midfielder Paul Scheipeter, who somehow snuck a well-placed shot on the ground past a pair of Wildcat defenders and Miller into the bottom right corner of the net – an 81st minute goal that proved to be the game-winner.
Next season, Northwestern returns a strong senior class that includes both Calistri and fellow attacker Cole Missimo. For Wildcat fans, it will be a long nine-month wait.