Nov. 30, 2008

Courtesy of Northwestern

EVANSTON, Ill. - Though the weather outside was frightful, the Northwestern men's soccer team found the result at Lakeside Field on Sunday delightful. Senior Geoff Fallon's first goal of the season was the game-winner as the Wildcats marched on to the NCAA quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory over fifth-seeded Akron.

The quarterfinal berth equals NU's longest run in the NCAA tournament, matching the 2006 squad. The Wildcats (15-4-3) will face the winner of Sunday's match between North Carolina and UIC at a site and time to be determined either Dec. 5, 6 or 7. Akron (17-2-4) was handed just its second loss of the season.

Weather proved to be a huge factor in the match as stiff winds off Lake Michigan, freezing rain and sleet made things difficult on both squads.

Northwestern had the wind advantage in the first half and was able to control possession throughout the majority of the opening 45 minutes of play. Akron, which entered the match ranked third in the nation with an average of 2.25 goals per game, was limited to just two shots in the first half compared to five for the Wildcats.

However, the team in control changed as soon as the intermission ended. The Zips inherited the wind advantage after the break and put pressure on the NU defense and goalkeeper Misha Rosenthal right away.

Head coach Tim Lenahan elected to substitute sophomore defender Jack Hillgard into the match for midfielder Piero Bellizzi and the move paid almost immediately, though perhaps not as expected. Instead of helping anchor the Northwestern defense, Hillgard helped the Wildcats post the lone score of the match just a minute into his entering the game.

His through ball from the midfield split a pair of Akron defenders and found a streaking Fallon who deposited a shot into the upper right corner of the net past Evan Bush to put the 'Cats ahead with 28:30 remaining.

The Zips' best chance of the match came just over three minutes later when Ben Zemanski's shot from the top of the box clanged off the crossbar. Northwestern was able to hold Akron at bay the rest of the match to advance to the next round.

Akron finished with a 14-7 advantage in shots, including a 12-2 edge in the second half. Rosenthal and Bush finished with three saves apiece. Sophomore Steve Zakuani, who is the nation's leader with 20 goals and 47 points this season, was limited to just one shot in the contest by a Northwestern defense that earned its school-record 13th shutout of the season.