While there’s plenty to be said about hearing the roar of the crowd during a big home game, there’s another role well-regarded in the world of sports: the silencer. The superstar who goes into a hostile environment, takes in all the pressure, all the jeers and noise thrown their way, and delivers the coldest performance of their careers. Plenty of athletes were known for their cool heads in this environment, and it often is what separates the elite from the rest of the pool.
For Northwestern men’s soccer (6-8-3, 3-5-0 B1G) on Sunday, the silencer was graduate goaltender Miha Miskovic. Already known well for his clutch performances – with 19 career shutouts during his time with the team – Miskovic helped create a stunner of an upset for the ’Cats, as his 10 saves and three in penalty kicks led the team to a victory over No. 2 Maryland (12-3-2, 5-2-1 B1G) in the Big Ten tournament.
The ’Cats, who finished seventh in the Big Ten following regular season play, drew the Terrapins for their quarterfinals match following a final push, winning their final two conference games of the season. The Terps had posted the second-best goals per game average in the Big Ten this season, with an average of 1.706. Despite this – as well as the loud College Park environment – the ’Cats never faltered in their conquest, battling Maryland to a 0-0 tie in regulation and beating them 3-2 in penalty kicks.
The game opened relatively even-paced for both teams, with the ball rocking back and forth between the squads. Across the first half, both the ’Cats and the Terps fired two shots on goal, but neither could break the ice to open the scoring.
The second half was where things got wild for Miskovic, who seemed to be a brick wall on the goal line for the team. The Terps shot nine balls towards the net, with six of them making it on goal. It first came to a head with about 10 minutes left to play, when sophomore forward Jacen Russell-Rowe earned a penalty kick and had a chance to put his team on top. Miskovic, however, coolly dived to the right and got a hand on the ball, keeping the score tied 0-0.
Three minutes later, the Terps rushed the zone and looked to finally break the tie when sophomore midfielder David Kovacic fired a shot that Miskovic bounced back into the box, and Russell-Rowe looked to exorcise his demons with a rebounding opportunity. Crawling back onto his feet like a cat on the warpath, Miskovic rose to meet the challenge and quickly jumped back to meet the shot, somehow keeping the ’Cats in the game and helping the team send it to extra time.
Both teams traded chances in the overtime periods, but neither goalie – including junior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann for Maryland – was ready to give up in the defensive duel, sending the game to penalty kicks to decide who advanced. With graduate defender Spencer Farina, senior midfielder Richie Bennett and sophomore midfielder making their kicks for the ’Cats, Miskovic denied senior forward Justin Geilin and senior defender Brett St. Martin enroute to the final kick, a climactic showdown with senior forward Brayan Padilla. The crowd held their breath and watched Padilla approach the ball, Miskovic dive right, and the ball starting to drift to the left…
Too far left. The ball hit the post and bounced out. Triumphant, Miskovic bounced up, turned to the crowd to give a victorious roar, and quickly ran to celebrate with his teammates. The ’Cats had stunned the Big Ten and notched their first postseason victory since 2018.
Despite the day’s happy ending, there is still more to come for Northwestern, as they now face an even-greater challenge on the horizon: Indiana (13-4-1, 5-3 B1G), the top-scoring team in the Big Ten with 1.833 goals per game. Despite the daunting task, it’s hard to believe that the ’Cats – backed by the stellar efforts of Miskovic – will go down without a fight.
All quiet in College Park. Onto Bloomington this Wednesday.