NORMAL- The Illinois State football team won’t be the only team trying to win a big game in Evanston this week.
ISU soccer (2-4) will get a crack at #24 Northwestern (5-0) Thursday night. This will be its second attempt at beating a top-25 team this season, after falling short against then #23 Notre Dame (1-0) last week in South Bend, Ind.
Illinois state is 3-4-0 all-time against the ’Cats.
These two teams have not sqaured off in five seasons. In 2011, the Redbirds defeated Northwestern 2-1 in overtime.
The Redbirds will go into the match with some momentum, however. In their last game, they beat Green Bay 2-0. One of the goal scorers in that match was senior Lauren Koehl. She has now been able to score in two of her last three matches. Her teammates will look for her to give them an advantage against the Wildcats.
Another player to look out for is freshman goalkeeper Haley Smith. Earlier this week, Smith won the Missouri Valley Conference Goalkeeper of the Week award for her performances against both Notre Dame and Green Bay. She stopped nine shots in those two matches. If she gets the start in this match, she needs to have one of her best performances to keep the opposition off the scoreboard.
But with some of their top players clicking on all cylinders, the Redbirds still have their hands full with this Northwestern squad, who made the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament last season.
The Wildcats’ scoring leader is sophomore Brenna Lovera. In five games, she scored four times, good enough for a tie for second place in the Big Ten Conference. She also had 13 shots per game in 2015, so Illinois State will need to focus and try not to give her many scoring opportunities.
Potentially opposing Smith at the other side of the field is Northwestern junior goalkeeper Lauren Clem. Clem leads the Big Ten in shutouts with four, despite only having to make seven saves in five games.
This means the Wildcats’ defense could be a problem for ISU. Three times this season the Redbirds could not score in a match. If the offense cannot take advantage of the opportunities out there, it could be a long night for them.
The Redbirds almost took down Notre Dame last week. Had it not been for Koehl’s controversial disallowed goal, ISU might already have a top-25 win under its belt. Instead, they will take another swing at it against a Wildcats team that is looking to continue its undefeated season.
The match between the Redbirds and Wildcats will begin at 7 p.m.