Back in Evanston after playing last year’s home games at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, Northwestern will attempt to recover from a disappointing 2015 campaign without a few key departed stars.
Midfielder Cole Missimo and forward Joey Calistri, the second-leading scorer in NU history, have both moved on to the professional ranks and goalkeeper Zak Allen, who led the Big Ten in saves last season, has also graduated.
But the Wildcats do return five of their top seven scorers from last year’s team, including senior forward Mike Roberge and sophomore midfielder Camden Buescher — one of the team’s most reliable starters as a freshman a year ago. On the back end, a foursome of freshman defenders will be tasked with replacing departed seniors Henry Herrill and Nati Schnitman, and junior Francisco Tomasino will be the eldest goalkeeper on the roster in Allen’s absence.
This new-look roster will be tasked with restarting the program’s 12-year streak of .500-or-better seasons that was snapped last fall.
Despite being outshot by a massive 308-158 margin over the course of the season, a number of dramatic late victories gave NU an outside shot at the 2015 Big Ten regular-season title entering the final game of the regular season. However, a road loss to bottom-dweller Wisconsin, followed by another defeat in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, doomed the team’s opportunity for an improbable conference championship and for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Fortunately, the nomadic schedule of a year ago — the Cats played six home games in the Chicago Fire’s stadium in Bridgeview and two others at the homes of Loyola and Illinois-Chicago — won’t be a problem this season.
Coach Tim Lenahan’s team will play its first game at Lakeside Field in more than 21 months on Aug. 26, hosting Florida Gulf Coast in the season opener. Non-conference dates with Santa Clara, Denver and Marquette then lead up to the Big Ten opener Sept. 9 at Ohio State.
NU will host matches against three of its Chicago-area rivals (DePaul, UIC and Loyola) later in the season and also make a return to Toyota Park when the Cats face Notre Dame on Oct. 18. The 17-game regular season slate will conclude Oct. 30 against Penn State, with the conference tournament scheduled the following week.
With a more travel-friendly schedule and another year of experience under the belts of most of the starters, the Cats could be poised for a bounce-back season.