What promised to be a tantalizing derby clash soon went sour for the ‘Cats.
Northwestern (5-6-1, 0-2-1 B1G) finished its’ sixth game against a top-50 opponent with a crushing 2-0 loss to local rivals Loyola (6-4-0, 2-2-0 B1G), having been outplayed in most facets of the game against the better-rested and more aggressive Ramblers.
Loyola blitzed Northwestern’s backline from the start, and the ‘Cats struggled to deal with the Ramblers’ pacy wingers. Five minutes into the contest, backup keeper Robby White, making his second start of the season in place of an under-the-weather Miha Miskovic, fumbled a cross from the right that Aidan Megally tapped into the net to give the Ramblers a lead they would never relinquish.
Facing an early deficit, Northwestern found it difficult to match Loyola’s play for most of the first half.
[It was] unfortunate to give up the early goal, which didn't give us the time to settle in,” said Lenahan. “We’ve got to find a way to be more grizzled and deal with the energy. You’re not always going to have your best effort you've got to give your best effort.”
Throughout the match, Lenahan shuffled through his roster given the high number of games played, along with injuries to key starters Bardia Kimiavi and Miskovic. Midfielder Sean Lynch and defender Jayson Cyrus played well with their increased game time, but Northwestern’s attack faltered for the second game in a row. The ‘Cats managed only three shots on target for the entire match, as chances for Ty Seagar and Achara, Jr. were few and far between.
The second half brought Northwestern’s best chance of the match, but this soon turned into the defining moment of the contest for the wrong reasons. At the 57 minute mark, Matt Moderwell raced out to a counterattack after a decent spell of possession by Loyola, and his pass found Seager streaking down the sideline for a one-on-one. Seager’s first touch betrayed him, though, as Loyola keeper Marcel Kampman successfully gathered Seager’s heavy ball. Seager, however, slid into Kampman and was immediately sent off with a red card.
Down 10 men, Northwestern climbed back to match Loyola’s pace. By the end of the game, though, the ‘Cats had worn out.
“There's nothing to lose,” said Lenahan. “We’re in a different shape, we’re coming at them a little bit, and there's a little more space. Usually offensively it's not the problem it's defensively, with plugging the holes.”
Megally got his second of the game after a Loyola defender dispossessed Achara and sent the ball to an open Megally. He cut inside and unleashed a low shot from near the outside of the box that found the bottom of the net.
Northwestern’s schedule eases up slightly, but the pressure to perform well remains as they fight for a tournament seed. The ‘Cats next take on Penn State this Saturday at College Station, in what Coach Lenahan noted was the most important game of the year for Northwestern so far.