For the first weekend this season, the Ohio State men’s soccer team wasn’t working overtime.
OSU (2-0-3) defeated Northwestern (2-1-2) in the Big Ten conference opener for both teams by a final score of 2-0 Sunday.
While the conference foes both came into the game undefeated, the Buckeyes walked out as one of two unbeaten teams in the Big Ten. The other is OSU’s opponent next weekend, Penn State.
“We’ve talked all week long about how important it is to get off to a good start in conference play,” OSU coach John Bluem said. “It was a beautiful day, and I think a very, very good performance by our team today.”
This game marked a rarity for OSU this season as it was the team’s first game to finish in the regulation time of 90 minutes. The first three games were double overtime draws, and the Sept. 7 victory against Elon still took an overtime period to complete.
“It was good (to finish a game in regulation), and I’m glad to have that happen,” Bluem said. “We had a week off since we last played, but we literally took three days off this week. We did not practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday to let the guys recover, so we were pretty beat up.”
After a first half devoid of many opportunities for either team, OSU broke through during the 54th minute with a goal by defender Kyle Culbertson. The junior received a pass from senior midfielder Yianni Sarris from about 20 yards out, and sent a curving shot that glanced off the head of Northwestern redshirt-senior midfielder Connor Holloway and redirected over senior goalkeeper Tyler Miller’s head.
“I think we had a pretty good game plan for them, trying to spread it out with their three (defenders) in the back that stayed tight and just exploit the space we could find,” Culbertson said. “I think we did a nice job on both sides and it paid off for us.”
The goal was the first of Culbertson’s time at OSU. The double transfer from Columbia and Akron made his Buckeye debut this season after sitting out last season because of the NCAA’s double transfer rules.
“It’s definitely a nice feeling, for sure,” Culbertson said about scoring his first goal. “But I think the win feels a little better.”
The exclamation point was put on the game a little less than 20 minutes later when freshman forward Marcus McCrary raced ahead of the defense and sent a pass across the net to a diving Culbertson. Culbertson got the shot off, but it was knocked down by the hand of the Northwestern defender.
Junior defender Liam Doyle took the penalty kick that came as a result of the handball and put it in the lower-right corner of the net. It was Doyle’s second goal of the season, both coming off penalty kicks.
“It was a bit of mind games going on in the box, because I took one before and one of the defenders said, ‘You know where he’s going, you watch,’ so I just decided to go the other way, and it worked out,” Doyle said.
Northwestern had previously been nearly untouchable in second halves this season. The Wildcats had outscored opponents 6-0 in latter halves, but the Buckeyes had no problem turning that trend around, controlling the ball throughout the second half.
“In the previous games, we had been struggling offensively,” Doyle said. “We’ve been working on that throughout the week and it paid off. They played with three in the back, so it left the wide man vulnerable, and we got in the box because it’s hard for that man, wide on his own. So that was our game plan.”
Redshirt-senior goalkeeper Alex Ivanov recorded a shutout, his third of the season. However, Ivanov did not require the services of a save, as Northwestern was held without a shot on goal for the entire contest.
“That was nice,” Doyle said about holding the Wildcats without a shot on goal. “It’s just communication. This is another game together, we’re progressing and training every weekend, we’re just used to each other, and we’re solid as a unit, right from front to back.”
Northwestern had only allowed one goal on the season, which the Buckeyes managed to double during the second half.
OSU is set to hit the road next weekend to take on two-time defending Big Ten champion Penn State in State College, Pa., on Sunday. The team is then scheduled to return home to face Akron on Sept. 24.