WHO: Northwestern Wildcats @ Maryland Terrapins
WHAT: Women's soccer B1G Conference game
WHERE: Ludwig Field, College Park, MD
WHEN: Friday, October 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm
WATCH: In person
The countdown to the end of the Big Ten women's soccer regular season continues. Five games remain and on this third weekend in October, Maryland plays its final two home games of its inaugural B1G season. While it is a far from perfect standard and sometimes fails the eyeball test, the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) does provide a reasonable method of comparing pairs of teams. And if we are to believe the RPI, Maryland should be more than capable of reeling in two much needed wins this weekend.
As the season shortens, it is incumbent on Maryland head coach Jonathan Morgan to find the solution - be it motivation, finding the best combination of players, or discovering some other missing piece - that will turn his post game comments from 'I thought we deserved a better result.' to 'We got the result we deserved.' Subjective observation may lead many to believe Morgan's analysis. Against Navy, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State, Maryland outplayed or equaled the play of the opponent. The results of those games were tie, loss, tie, tie. The Terrapins need to convert quality ties into wins and quality losses into ties.
Last weekend, the Terps played at Ohio State. Although the game was on the road, Maryland failed to take advantage of playing a team behind them in the conference standings with an RPI hovering around 100. The Terps managed a tie but again picked up only one point in the standings when the quality of the opponent offered a chance to earn three.
This continued a pattern in which the Terps have not played well against the teams in the bottom half of the conference. Michigan State (currently 10th) and Indiana (currently last) both played Maryland to 0-0 ties in College Park. Twelfth place Nebraska's only conference win to date came in a 4-3 overtime contest with the Terps albeit that one was in Lincoln.
Now, into College Park come the Northwestern Wildcats. According to the RPI, 108 NCAA women's soccer teams, including Maryland at 44, are better than Northwestern. According the the Big Ten standings, twelve conference teams, including Maryland, are better than Northwestern. With three road games that include (RPI) seventh ranked Penn State and fifteenth ranked Wisconsin looming to close the season, the importance of a win on Friday sharpens.
Wildcats on the pitch
There is little good one can write about the 2013 edition of the Northwestern Wildcats. They finished the season 3-14-2 and won only once in Big Ten play while losing ten times. Glancing at the stats, one could easily say that the Wildcats' troubles came largely on the offensive end of the field where they scored only 16 goals in 19 games. But that would represent only half the picture. Northwestern struggled defensively as well, conceding an average of 1.89 goals per game more than twice the number they scored.
Given the depths of the 2013 season, improvement in 2014 would almost be a given. And the Wildcats have made marked improvement. Currently sitting with an overall record of 5-7-2 they have nearly doubled the prior season's win total. With a win and a tie in their eight conference games they have also surpassed their 2013 conference points total.
Two of Northwestern's wins are of some quality. Early in the season they picked up a 1-0 win at Marquette - a team that has disappointed preseason pundits. But the Cats managed only a tie in nine 2013 road games so any road win would be noteworthy. Their lone conference win, 2-0 over Illinois, ended a five game losing streak and represents their other quality result.
The Wildcats have scored 17 times this season already surpassing their total for all of 2013 so at first glance, it appears that they have solved their scoring woes. However, six of their goals came in an early season 6-0 rout of the University of Illinois-Chicago. Extract that game and they are scoring at precisely the same 0.84 goals per game as they did last season.
Northwestern has improved defensively reducing their goals against average from 1.89 to 1.14 goals per game. This improvement is attributable largely to the play of freshman goalkeeper Lauren Clem. Clem has picked up 50 saves and registered four shutouts while playing all but 31 minutes in goal for the Wildcats this season.
Player to watch
Addie Steiner, #21, freshman, forward. Stenier is the main reason for Northwestern's improved offense. Her eight goals represent nearly half of the Wildcats' scoring for the season. She has one assist for 17 total points - more than three times as many as any of her teammates. No other Wildcat has scored more than twice.
Northwestern joins a long line of Big Ten opponents that Maryland is facing for the first time.
Once again I find myself writing that the upcoming game represents yet another opportunity for the Terps to move up in the Big Ten standings against a squad that should not present the same level of challenge as Maryland will face over the last portion of their schedule. The Terps need to view the game against Northwestern as a big old plate of Peruvian Chicken (I'm thinking about you HughGR). They need to slather it with mixed green and yellow sauce and feast while they can because the meals only get tougher from here.