Nov. 19, 2006
EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Wildcats have taken the college soccer world by storm!
Northwestern (14-7) continued on its improbable NCAA Tournament run today and are now one win away from punching its ticket to the NCAA College Cup by virtue of a 2-1 win over UNC Greensboro (16-8-1) today in front of a packed house at the Thomas Athletic Complex.
Behind a penalty kick by Brian Usinger, a rocket goal by Gerardo Alvarez and the outstanding play of Justin Pines in goal, the Wildcats lived to play another day and advance to the Elite Eight next weekend.
Northwestern, the only Big Ten team still standing in the NCAA's, will travel to UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night at 9 p.m. CT.
"I thought that we played pretty well today," head coach Tim Lenahan said. "We played a tournament game today and tournament games are different. It's really about managing the game and that's what we did. We created the goals and in the second half we wanted to keep attacking, but when the clock ticks down and you see the pressure being put on by the other team, you change tactics.
"During the season we really didn't focus on going this deep in the Tournament. Maybe winning the Big Ten or something like that and that didn't happen. So once we got into the dance I knew we could be successful. We have great senior players that go out and make plays. Now at the end of their careers there is a sense of urgency with these guys that is unparalleled."
The Wildcats struck first in the ninth minute. After a Spartan player was charged with a handball in box, Usinger notched his first-career goal on the penalty kick to give NU the early 1-0 lead.
The lead was short-lived, however, as UNC Greensboro charged right back down the field to tie the game on a Michael FitzGerald header from 5 yards out. Scott Jones fired the crossing pass into the box from the right wing as the diving FitzGerald headed the shot past Pines who had little time to react.
With the wind at its backs in the first half, Northwestern knew it had to take advantage of every scoring opportunity in the first half. And Alvarez cashed in the Wildcats' second goal when he intercepted a UNCG goal kick, dribbled around a Spartan defender and fired a rocket into the top left-hand corner of the net for what proved to be the game-winner.
"I knew the wind was at our back, so I just put my foot to it, let it fly and I was able to put it exactly where I wanted it," Alvarez said jokingly after the game.
"This is the biggest win we've ever had here. It's huge. Knowing what we have done over the last three years, it's paying off. It's a great feeling, other than winning a national championship or going to a final four, you can't really top this feeling."
Things heated up in the second half as UNC Greensboro tried desperately to tie the game. Five yellow cards in all were issued in the game, along with one red card on UNCG's JoKull Elisabetarson for a hard foul on David Roth near the end of the game.
But both teams had chances to tack on extra goals. With 19 minutes remaining, Roth found himself all alone in a one-on-one with UNCG keeper Nate Berry, only to miss just wide to the left.
Prior to that, the Wildcats dodged a bullet when FitzGerald's header bounced off the right post and clear of the goal. Then late in the game, Mike Richardson nearly connected on a header off a corner kick that sailed just wide of the goal.
Pines (6-1), fresh off his brilliant performance in the upset win over Saint Louis, recorded four saves today in the win. Berry (13-8-1) took the loss, making three saves.
Click Here to watch the goals.
Click Here to listen to Coach Lenahan's opening statement from his postgame press conference.
Click Here to listen to Coach Lenahan talk about the team's leaders.
Click Here to listen to Alvarez talk about the importance of reaching the round of eight.
Click Here to North discuss how far Northwestern soccer has progressed in his time as a Wildcat
Click Here to listen to Coach Lenahan touch on how his team still has work to do.