Illinois soccer inches closer to first Big Ten win, faces rival Northwestern on road

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Photo Courtesy of Bradley Leeb / Illinois Athletics

Freshman Naomi Jackson saves a ball from going into the goal against Purdue on Sept. 23. The team is working on getting out of their slump as their game against Northwestern approaches.

By Angelle Cortes, Assistant Sports Editor

Three games into Big Ten play and Illinois soccer sits at 0-3. The Illini have been plagued by second-half goals by their opponents and have lost by a 2-1 scoreline in each of the three games so far.

“It’s definitely tough having those one-goal outcomes again and again,” said midfielder Hope Breslin. “Especially Indiana, when we were up one nothing and to concede two goals is kind of tough.”

Looking at Illinois and seeing the three losses on its schedule looks bad, but Breslin says the scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story. 

“If you’re really at the games or a part of this team and this program, you really don’t see how close we really are,” Breslin said. “We’re such a good team. We’re so capable of so much more, so 0-3, while it doesn’t look the best in the standings, I’m really excited for the next games to come.” 

The Illini’s next opponent is in-state rival Northwestern in Evanston, where Illinois is ready to flip the script in the win column. 

Like any other season Illinois travels to Evanston, the Wildcats has some factors to watch out for. Lanny and Sharon Martin Field has an artificial grass playing surface, so the ball will roll easy and fast compared to natural grass. The field is also set right next to Lake Michigan, meaning there will be a lot of wind during the 90 minutes which can affect the way the ball travels. 

The last time the two met was back in April, when Illinois was victorious after Kendra Pasquale scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute. 

Northwestern currently holds a 1-1-1 record in the Big Ten and has seen all sides of the scoreline. The Wildcats’ lone win came from an upset against then-No. 12 Penn State, which is also 0-3 in the Big Ten. 

Illinois has a lot to work on to get out of the slump the team is currently in. 

In the past three games, the attack has struggled to be dangerous in the attacking third and put shots on frame. Two of the three goals scored in the Big Ten have come from a rebound off a missed penalty kick.

Head coach Janet Rayfield says that she’s trying to make her team into better problem solvers. 

Against Indiana, Illinois was in possession of the ball a lot in the first half but struggled to convert that into chances. 

The Illini only had three shots and two on goal the whole game, which in the end hurt their looks to get an equalizer in Bloomington. 

In the net, Naomi Jackson had a rough 90 minutes after letting in two goals from distance. After the second goal, she looked visibly frustrated, but Rayfield has been working with her. 

“She’s had several good games, and if you ask her, she would say, ‘Yes, I should have saved, especially the second one and maybe even the first one,’” Rayfield said. “So I think taking responsibility and figuring out how to own the mistake and move on from it and be better from it, that’s the conversation we’re having with Naomi.” 

Being a goalkeeper is what Rayfield would call an exposed position like a quarterback. It is a make-or-break position that could come out being the hero of the game. 

Jackson is only a freshman, but the coaches are working on creating resiliency and the ability to bounce back to help improve her game in the next couple of years.

Kick off will begin at 7 p.m. central time and will be streamed on Big Ten Network Plus. 

 

@AngelleCortes

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