By Ethan Schroeder, news staff
Three weeks ago, the Northeastern University (NU) men’s soccer team was banged up, winless and on the edge of finishing the season without a playoff berth. What was initially labeled as a year with high expectations was becoming a season of losses and missed opportunities. Fans were more than ready to move on and look toward the 2016 season.
Then, things changed in a matter of a few games.
With a convincing home victory against the College of Charleston Cougars on Saturday, the Huskies won their third game out of the last five and kept their postseason chances within reach. NU followed the victory with an impressive effort in a loss to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Their last Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) matchup against Drexel University next week will decide whether or not they get to add onto their schedule.
Coming off a non-conference win against the College of the Holy Cross, NU was eager to keep the positive energy going against the Cougars. Saturday night’s matchup was Northeastern’s senior night, and outgoing redshirt senior defender Mike Lobben, NU’s sole senior, was honored with a pregame announcement. Anyone in attendance wary of the talent on this year’s team was quickly corrected as the Huskies claimed and maintained the momentum from the whistle’s first blow.
The NU sophomore forward pairing of Khesanio Hall and Harry Swartz nearly put the team ahead in the sixth minute, but a diving save from Charleston redshirt junior goalkeeper Kevin Shields prolonged the 0-0 tie. It was not until the 20th minute, when sophomore forward Frantzdy Pierrot was substituted in, that the Huskies finally jumped ahead. Pierrot dominated possession and out-muscled defenders in the offensive third immediately. Less than a minute after his entrance, he tallied an assist as his pass led Hall down the sideline behind the line of Charleston defenders. A ground cross across the box from Hall found the right foot of junior forward Christian McKenna, who put it away for a 1-0 lead.
“It was a great ball across from Khesanio,” McKenna said. “I knew instinctively the keeper was going the other way, so I fired it back across the other way. It was perfect execution all-around.”
McKenna noted Pierrot’s impact on the team’s productivity, crediting him with the spark that got Northeastern going.
“Frantzdy’s best attribute is his size,” McKenna said. “He can hold up players, and it allows more creative players like me, Kevin [Carvalho] and Dan [Arvidsson] to play off of him and create opportunities from there. When he comes in, you notice the change in our offense right away.”
For the rest of the half, Northeastern dictated every move. The Huskies’ attack put Shields to work. Seven minutes after the first score, it was Charleston’s defense that did them in. In the 27th minute, a Cougar defender slid in and took down Swartz from behind in the goalie box. When the referee called for a penalty kick, it was Hall who calmly stepped up and beat the keeper to double the NU lead.
Nonetheless, the Cougars kept the contest up for grabs. Charleston sophomore forward Leland Archer stole one back for the away team by heading in a free kick from far out, sneaking the ball past NU sophomore goalkeeper Jonathan Thuresson. Following the goal, the Cougars enjoyed a period of momentum in which they threatened to tie on numerous occasions.
The game’s final 28 minutes were marked by an increased amount of physicality. Five yellow cards were called throughout the game, with a notable amount of blown whistles filling the spaces in between. Nonetheless, it was the Huskies and their offensive advantage that coasted to a 2-1 victory. NU outshot Charleston 16-6 in the matchup.
The victory improved the Huskies’ conference record to 2-5, putting them two points behind James Madison University (JMU), who currently holds the sixth and final tournament berth at 2-2-2.
“It’s a great feeling to get a win for the team, especially on senior night for Lobben,” McKenna said following the game. “It’s a good way to send him out.”
On Tuesday, the Huskies traveled to North Carolina to take on the UNC Tar Heels. The game had no effect on Northeastern’s CAA record and therefore no effect on the team’s playoff chances.
Nonetheless, UNC’s position among the Division I elite makes them perennial targets for all opponents. The Tar Heels were ranked fifth in the country by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) entering the matchup.
”North Carolina is one of the biggest games of the season,” McKenna said before the matchup. “They’re an impressive team, and it’s going to be a good chance to take their scalp. If we can beat them, we’re going to be over the moon.”
The Huskies nearly did just that, stretching a 0-0 tie to the final minutes of regulation. Unfortunately, UNC’s advantage in scoring opportunities allowed them to prevail in the 84th minute and win 1-0.
The Tar Heels outshot the Huskies 15-6, forcing Thuresson to make five saves. Despite the gap, it was Northeastern that nearly took the lead in the second half. In the 56th minute, Pierrot connected squarely on a header, sending the ball past UNC redshirt senior goalkeeper Sam Euler. Quick action from a UNC defender resulted in a goal line clear, though, keeping the score even at zero.
UNC redshirt junior forward Tucker Hume’s 84th minute strike proved to be the game-winner. Hume collected a pass from inside the box and beat two defenders with a spin move, finishing with a hard shot over Thuresson’s shoulder. The strike allowed the Tar Heels to escape the rain-soaked matchup with the expected victory.
Even with the loss, Northeastern’s sights are firmly set on their Halloween matchup against the Drexel Dragons.
The Huskies can qualify for the CAA playoffs with a win if JMU loses its last two conference games. McKenna believes the Huskies’ recent wins and favorable results give them a good chance to do their part in reaching the postseason.
“Our confidence is sky high right now,” McKenna said. “It’s been a stressful few weeks for us, and it’s been nice to overcome it. Hopefully we can push on and get to the conference playoffs and make some magic from there.”
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics