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Tale of the Tape: Northwestern

Josh Penn has scored two goals so far this season. His latest came Friday night against Sacramento State. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

Indiana got a dose of reality last week against Butler. After narrowly surviving defeat in the first six games of the year, IU finally found a deficit it couldn’t overcome in its 2-1 defeat in Indianapolis

The Hoosiers bounced back with a less-than-convincing 1-0 victory against Sacramento State on Friday. The lone goal from freshman forward Josh Penn made the difference. Conference play restarts Tuesday as IU heads to Evanston to face Northwestern. Here’s how the Wildcats stack up. 

Strong start to the season

Northwestern really struggled last season en route to an eighth-place finish in conference and an exit in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. Indiana saw first-hand what Northwestern presented this season when the Wildcats played Pittsburgh and UCLA in the IU/Adidas Credit Union Classic on Labor Day weekend. Northwestern finished the weekend 1-0-1 including a resounding defensive effort against Pittsburgh and its star striker Edward Kizza.

In conference play, Northwestern knocked off No. 25 Maryland on the road to begin its conference slate and followed it up with a scoreless draw at home against Ohio State. Tim Lenahan is in his 19th season at the helm of Northwestern and has carried the Wildcats to nine NCAA tournament appearances. This team isn’t quite at the level to make an appearance in the tournament but Lenahan is experienced in conference play and always has a tough defensive team ready to play its opponents. 

IU hasn’t quite figured out what will make its offensive attack go. With injuries holding out freshman forward Victor Bezerra and redshirt junior Ian Black out of its last match, IU’s offense is reeling. To pull off the upset, Northwestern’s defense will have to be formidable and not let IU too many breakaway chances. 

Productive midfield

Northwestern is well known for its defensive play, but the Wildcat midfield has carried the majority of offensive productivity through nine matches. 

Senior midfielder Matt Moderwell makes this team go offensively. In nine matches, he’s netted two goals and added four assists. In addition to Moderwell, sophomore midfielder Bardia Kimiavi has thrived in the middle of the Northwestern offense with three goals and two assists on the campaign including the game winner against Pittsburgh in Bloomington.

These two players help facilitate the offensive attack for Northwestern. When they get the ball in midfield, it allows them to play balls onto senior forwards Jose Del Valle and Ty Seager, or to just take the ball themselves and make a run into the box. The dynamic play of Moderwell and Kimiavi has opened up for a team that has struggled to score goals at points in the season. 

To get IU on its back foot, Northwestern will have to strike early and regain the form it played with in a ranked victory over the defending national champions in College Park. Moderwell and Kimiavi will go a long way in making that happen.

Recent history

The history between these two has been more than lopsided. IU has lost to Northwestern just twice in program history and has victories of 11-0 and 11-1 over the Wildcats to its name. IU hasn’t lost to Northwestern since 2009, but last year’s matchups tested IU more than it likely expected. 

In the regular season, IU needed an 87th-minute winner from Griffin Dorsey to dispatch the Wildcats in Bloomington. Then in the quarterfinal of the Big Ten tournament, IU needed a golden goal from Rece Buckmaster to advance to the semifinals at Grand Park.

With an experienced head coach and a plethora of talent, Northwestern is surely not shorthanded against Indiana on Tuesday. 

Tuesday’s match with start at 7 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.

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