Northwestern's Rom Brown (17) and Spencer Howard (8) trade messages during Northwestern's 4-1 loss to Michigan Friday night. Despite the best efforts of the 'Cats in their first game of the season, they were not able to overcome offensive struggles. Photo Credit: Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

After a long wait for the start of the Big 10 Men’s Soccer Season, our Northwestern Wildcats were set to face off against the Michigan Wolverines for the first soccer game in Ryan Fieldhouse History. With an unprecedented emphasis on unity and peace for all, a beautiful moment of silence was held prior to kickoff with all players kneeling on the pitch. At the offset of the game, the Wildcats were going to start with the ball, and as soon as the first whistle blew, we were off and running.

As the first moments of the game ensued, it was clear that it was the first game of the season and both teams had to get their feet beneath them. Sloppy passes were everywhere on the pitch, rough touches, but as these quality teams settled down, we got into a great soccer game. Within the first two minutes of the game, Michigan got into the final third of the pitch and got a good shot on goal that ricocheted off a Northwestern defender and ended with a Michigan corner kick (the first set-piece of the game would end going long.)  Moments later, as Northwestern was on the counter-attack, a ball was played over the top, flicked over Michigan’s right-back, and brilliantly back-heeled to first-year midfielder Joseph Arena for a cheeky slot past Michigan’s goalkeeper. The first goal in Ryan Fieldhouse’s history was certainly one for the ages - a beautiful, cohesive attack.

Northwestern defenseman Jack Ratterman celebrates with teammates after the Wildcats score the first goal of the game. Despite the early start, Northwestern was not able to click for the rest of the match. Photo Credit: Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

Following the first goal of the game by the Wildcats, the Wolverines began to play frequently over the top, swinging the ball around the defense until playing a diagonal towards the Wildcat’s flag. As a result, Michigan was essentially living in the final third of the pitch, but as evident by a set-piece from around 30 yds. out, they were not able to convert any of their opportunities into goals. Occasionally, due to Michigan’s rampant offense, Northwestern found themselves on the counter, ending up with a throw-in from about 15 yds. out with 32 minutes left. Northwestern attempted to get this one in the box, but it was headed out by Michigan resulting in another Northwestern throw-in, but this time, the Michigan keeper would step up and make a save in the box.

While the nature of this game was very defensive in the first half for the Wildcats, it was undoubtedly a scrappy style of defense. Sophomore Ugo Achara Jr. on Northwestern received a yellow card for a strong tackle that nearly led to a fight that had to be broken up. With 11 minutes left in the first half, Michigan had arguably their best opportunity of the half. A set-piece from 30 yds. out from Michigan was won in the air by a header that trickled as slowly as anything towards the Wildcats' net and just barely nicked the post, resulting in another missed opportunity. Over the final 10 minutes of the half, Michigan had a flurry of opportunities that all failed because of Northwestern’s defense. Sophomore Deng Deng Kur, the Wildcats’ center back, is truly the anchor of that defensive line, with a brilliant IQ of knowing where the ball will be and when to step in. Michigan failed to convert in the first.

Northwestern center back Deng Deng Kur during Friday night's game. Kur looks to anchor a defensive core for the 'Cats in a rough-and-tumble season. Photo Credit: Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern

Starting off the second half of the matchup, Michigan started off hot with their guns-a-blazin’. Four minutes into the second half, Michigan wins a free kick just outside of the 18 yd. box. The Wildcats set up a four-man wall, but a brilliant curler by Michigan’s Marc Ybarra ended up in the left-side-netting. Northwestern was certainly feeling the tides start to turn and were playing very nervously and were falling behind on the defensive counters Michigan was putting together over the back-line. With 35 minutes left in the half, a Michigan ball over the top settled down by Moshtaba Al-Hasnawi resulted in a cut-in with the left foot and a rocket into the back of the net giving Michigan the lead. The Wildcats were clearly in shock as they kicked off moments later and played the ball to the back-line, ending in a massive miscommunication. Michigan capitalized on the mistake, putting them up 3-1 just 11 minutes into the second half.

After those first 11 minutes, Northwestern was on tilt the rest of the game, giving up a penalty with 17 minutes left in the game that ended up putting the Wolverines up 4-1 as the score would end. By the end of the game, the Wolverines had amassed 13 shots (9 on goal) to Northwestern’s mere 4 (2 on goal). Additionally, Michigan was favored in corner-kicks 6-1 and Northwestern conceded more fouls than the Wolverines (7-2).

While not the end result that the Wildcats were looking for, the gentlemen looked very promising in the opening half, and without a few communication errors and better transition defense, the game may have ended completely differently. Looking forward to what’s in store for the rest of the season for our Northwestern Wildcats, continuing against the Wisconsin Badgers this upcoming Tuesday night, Feb. 23.

Let's see how they respond.

Grit and grind, until it is done. Photo Credit: Maren Kranking / North by Northwestern