|School – Northwestern
|Conference – Big Ten
|Coach – Tim Lenahan (16th Season)
Background – Northwestern had a subpar, by their own standards, 7-9-0 overall record in 2015. However they still managed a respectable 4-4 record in Big Ten play that was good for a tie for third place in the conference and included noteworthy wins over Maryland and Ohio State. The Wildcats faced more than the average number of challenges last year including injuries to several key players and the distraction of having to play all of their contests on the road since their facility was undergoing construction.
Northwestern has a winning tradition under the direction of Tim Lenahan who became the head coach in 2001 and relatively quickly turned a program that had been at the bottom of the Big Ten into a program that now annually contends for the conference title and standing on the national scene.
In the last fifteen seasons the Wildcats have averaged ten wins a season and have advanced to the NCAA Tournament nine times including eight out of the past ten seasons.
In 2015 forward Joey Calistri and midfielder Cole Missimo were named to the All-Big Ten Second Team and midfielder Camden Buescher was an All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection.
Offense – Northwestern will enter the 2016 season without the services of forward Joey Calistri (3g, 6a) who had thirty career goals and fourteen career assists and midfielder Cole Missimo (1g, 2a) who had seven career goals and twelve career assists. Both were impact players. Calistri was an All-Big Ten First team honoree in 2012 and 2013 and a Second Team selection in 2014 and 2015. Missimo was an All-Big Ten Second Team selection in 2014 and 2015. The Wildcats will also be without midfielder Layth Masri who was a starter but whose tenure at Northwestern was hampered due to injury.
Senior Mike Roberge (4g, 1a) and junior Elo Ozumba (3g, 0a) are among returning forwards who will be counted on to lead the attack in 2016. Both are veterans who likely relish the opportunity that they now have to spearhead the offense. Their performance will likely have a big impact on whether or not the Wildcat attack can make a big jump upward in productivity in 2016. Senior Getenet Tuji (1g, 0a) who played in seventeen contests last year is among other returning players who should challenge for minutes up-top in 2016.
Incoming freshmen forwards Ty Seager who was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year for the past two years and 6' 4" Mac Mazzola are pure goal scorers who could have an immediate impact. Both appear to have the physicality, speed, and touch on the ball needed to contribute sooner later than later at the collegiate level.
The midfield has the potential to be very good and deep with senior Jeff Hopson (1g, 3a), sophomore Camden Buescher (1g, 2a), junior Sam Forsgren (0g, 3a), senior Brandon Medina and sophomore Shannon Seymour all slated to return. Hopson and Buescher are both very capable box-to-box midfielders who will likely set the pace. Medina who was an All-Big Ten Freshman selection in 2013 returns from a broken foot. Seymour missed a large portion of the 2015 season due to injury. They are now healthy and eager to make a contribution. Both have the potential to be difference makers.
Matt Moderwell out of the Chicago Fire Academy and Sean Lynch out of Sockers FC Chicago are among the newcomers who could challenge for minutes in the midfield.
Defense – It is important to note that Northwestern netted a total of seventeen goals in 2015 and allowed a total of twenty-seven goals. Compare that with the fact that they scored a total of twenty-two goals in 2014 and only allowed twelve.
Lenahan will no doubt seek a reversal in that ratio in 2016 and in particular a reduction in the number of goals allowed.
Departures due to graduation include back Henry Herrill (1g, 1a) and goalkeeper Zac Allen. Herrill was a starter last year who was a solid performer during his four year tenure at Northwestern. Allen played every minute in goal last year for the Wildcats.
Returning defenders who look to play a key role in 2016 include seniors Nathan Dearth (1g, 2a) and Willis Griffith, juniors Riley Kelliher (0g, 1a) and John Moderwell (0g, 1a), and sophomores Jake Roberge (1g, 1a) and Cameron Marden. Both Griffith and Marden sat out the 2015 campaign due to injury but appear to be ready to go in 2016.
Sophomore Robbie White and junior Francisco Tomasino look to be among the key challengers for the starting role in goal. Both are inexperienced at the collegiate level which creates a question mark between the pipes heading into the season. Look for the play in goal to be a critical success factor in 2016.
Newcomers – Three and a half Star Recruiting Class
Coach Lenahan stated, "I really like the balance of this class. We have added size, technical ability and athleticism to the group".
Sean Lynch – Midfielder – Naperville, Illinois – Waubonsie Valley HIgh School – Played with Sockers FC Academy. Trained in multiple US Youth National Team Training Ceners.
Peter Mazzola – Forward – Chagrin Falls, Ohio – Chagrin Falls High School – Sixty-two career goals in Chargin Falls High School. Second Team All-Ohio. All Greater Cleveland. Played club for Challenger Crew.
Andrew McLeod – Defender – Overland Park, Kansas – Blue Valley North High School – Played for Sporting KC Academy. US Futsal U-16 National Team 2015-2016.
Matt Moderwell – Midfielder – Lake Forest, Illinois – Lake Forest High School – Played for Chicago Fire Academy from U-15 through U-18.
Ty Sleager – Forward – West Chicago, Illinois – Wheaton Academy – Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015. First Team All-State. Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year. NSCAA National Player of the Year. NSCAA All-American.
Mattias Tomasino – Defender – Miami, Florida – Christopher Columbus High School – Played with Kendall SC Academy. Region III ODP Team in 2012. USMNT residency trial in 2015.
Prognosis for 2016 – The Wildcats fall into the wait and see cagtegory heading into the 2016 season. Northwestern clearly faced more than the usual amount of adversity in 2015 including key injuries which in all fairness negatively impacted their productivity in terms of overall wins and losses.
Regardless of the circumstances they now face the challenge of rebounding from the adversity and establishing that the 2015 season was a blip on the radar screen rather than the beginning of a trend. This task is made more difficult because the Big Ten Conference will once again be very competitive from top to bottom in 2016 with all members very capable of exploting any weaknesses that might exist in their opponents.
The healthy return of midfielders Brandon Medina and Shannon Seymour and back Willis Griffith is a plus. Critical success factors for Northwestern include a balanced attack led by forwards Elo Ozumba and Mike Roberge, a solid performance in the center of the park from midfielders Jeff Hopson and Camden Buescher, the emergence of a steady performer in goal, and the ability of the newcomers like Ty Seager and Mac Mazzola to contribute.
All things considered, it is likely that Northwestern will rebound in 2016. Just how much of a bounce upward begins first and foremost by improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
Based on their record last year the Wildcats will likely not enter the 2016 season as a favorite to win the Big Ten race nor with a national ranking. Regardless this is a team that should be watched closely for clues that they are back on track. Team chemistry and renewed toughness on the defensive side of the ball will be among early indicators.
It would be foolish to underestimate Northwestern considering the success they have had in the past.