The Ohio State men’s soccer team (1-14-2, 0-7-1 Big Ten) heads into the 2018 Big Ten Tournament on Saturday afternoon when it takes on Northwestern (5-8-5, 0-5-3 Big Ten) in the tournament play-in match on the campus of Indiana University.
The Buckeyes and Wildcats enter the tournament as the ninth and eighth seeds respectively.
The two squads played each other to a scoreless double-overtime draw earlier this season at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. That late September match featured the Buckeyes holding its ground despite being forced to play a man down for a majority of the match, after redshirt freshman forward Devyn Etling was shown a red card early in the second half.
Ohio State has just one win on the season, coming against Hofstra during the season opening Wolstein Classic. With the Big Ten Tournament being a single elimination competition, now is the time for the Buckeyes to turn their attention towards a survive and advance mentality.
“This is actually one of the easier things to do is to get guys excited to go play in a tournament that extends the season and gets us playing soccer longer because that’s all we want to do,” redshirt junior goalkeeper Parker Siegfried said.
For the Buckeyes to keep their season alive, head coach Brian Maisonneuve said the key is to play their own game and focus on what they do best while digging deep to find belief after a tough season.
“Overall, throughout the year, when we focus on what we do, we play better, so we’ve got to come out and just play with that conviction, that confidence, that belief and just let it ride,” Maisonneuve said.
Maisonneuve cited the regular season finale against Wisconsin as a model for the team to be successful moving forward.
“I thought our best performance was probably the second half against Wisconsin. We created stuff, we played with that fight and even when mistakes happened, we battled, our transition was good,” Maisonneuve said. “We’re missing that final piece in terms of poking things in the net, and sometimes I said it before, that is the last thing to come and unfortunately it’s taken a while for us.”
Siegfried added if Ohio State were to defend like it did against Wisconsin, what he considered to be a key to the game, it would be hard for the opposing offense to have consistent scoring opportunities.
For Maisonneuve, the key to offensive success is to get bodies into the box and crashing the net. It is something that the Buckeyes have not done much of this season, according to the head coach.
“We created some really good chances, six yards out from goal, we just had nobody in there. We need somebody, I don’t care who it is, center back, right back, center forward, midfield, whoever wants to get in there and just poke those home, we’re waiting,” Maisonneuve said. “The boys are willing to get there, now that they’ve seen it, and they’ve got to put their body on the line.”
Unfortunately for the Ohio State attack, Northwestern’s sophomore goalkeeper Miha Miskovic ranks second in the Big Ten in shutouts, with eight, while sporting a .767 goals against average.
From a defensive standpoint, Northwestern does not pose as much of a threat to punch home goals as some of the Buckeyes opponents down the stretch like Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan State and Syracuse, all of whom were top 10 in offense at the time they faced off against the Buckeyes.
The catalyst of the Northwestern offense is senior midfielder Camden Buescher, who has six goals and two assists on the year for a team leading 14 points.
The other dangerous weapon for the Wildcats attack is junior midfielder Matt Moderwell, who has three goals on the year to go with one assist.
Tied with Moderwell in the points department is Ohio State’s leading scorer, Etling, who also has three goals and one assist.
“Northwestern is an excellent team. They move the ball around well, they’ve got some really good attacking pieces, wide guys dangerous off the dribble, and [freshman forward Jose Del Valle] is dangerous in the box,” Maisonneuve said.
The winner of Saturday’s match will advance to face No. 1 seed Indiana in the quarterfinal stage of the Big Ten Tournament.