For the second time in the last three matches, the men’s soccer team faced a team that played in last year’s National Championship, having beaten the 2013 runner-up in Maryland on Oct. 5 at home. This time the No. 19 Wildcats were not so fortunate, as they dropped a tough 1-0 match to No. 11 Notre Dame, the defending national champions, in South Bend.
The loss was only the ‘Cats second of the year, with both losses coming in the form of a shutout. Notre Dame moved to 7-3-2 with its win while Northwestern fell to 6-2-4. The win for Notre Dame was also its first against Northwestern in the last seven years. Prior to Tuesday's match, the ‘Cats held a 3-0-3 edge over the Irish over six consecutive years of non-conference play.
The match itself was tightly contested and dictated by both teams’ defenses throughout. Notre Dame came close on a few attempts in the first half, but Northwestern senior goalkeeper Tyler Miller was on everything, per usual. The one exception was a free kick in the 24th minute by junior midfielder Patrick Hodan that hit the top crossbar and bounced away before the Irish could inflict further damage. Northwestern made an effort to stay conservative offensively and do just enough to stop the Irish on defense. That strategy paid dividends in the first half, as the teams went to the sideline tied 0-0, despite Notre Dame outshooting the ‘Cats 8-3.
A similar trend of play continued in the second half, although both teams were less aggressive as a whole, until the 65th minute when Northwestern sophomore defender Nathan Dearth forced Notre Dame substitute freshman forward Jon Gallagher to the ground in an effort to knock the ball away right in front of Northwestern’s goal. Dearth was given a yellow card on the play, and Hodan came on to take the penalty kick, which he pushed just out of the reach of Miller in the bottom right hand corner to give the Irish a lead they would not relinquish.
The final 25 minutes of the match saw physical play and an offensive stalemate as the ‘Cats desperately tried to equalize, only to be thwarted each time. Possibly due to frustration, Northwestern picked up two more yellow cards. One was called on senior midfielder Eric Weberman for a rough slide tackle on Notre Dame senior defender Max Lachowecki, and another was called on Miller for some shoving following a corner kick.
In the closing seconds, Northwestern senior defender Grant Wilson had a clear shot on goal that was just barely knocked down and corralled by Notre Dame redshirt senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall. It was really a “too little, too late” situation for the ‘Cats, who only attempted five total shots to Notre Dame’s 15, and only two in the second half.
Northwestern will look to bounce back in conference play when it takes on Rutgers on the road Saturday night.