Soccer Report: Here comes Big Ten play

Can you believe it? Big Ten conference play is only a few days away. As we approach week one, I must say that from a distance it looks like the tectonic plates in Big Ten country sat still over the past eight months. But if you use your microscope, you’ll see that those plates are slowly gathering momentum.

Michigan may be 2-4-0, but I think new head coach Chaka Daley is beginning to see his coaching mindset take shape on the pitch. Three of the Wolverines four losses have come against Top 20 teams, and Michigan lost by a single goal each time. A new coach that schedules the likes of Marquette and South Florida on the road is a brave coach, and surely the experience and tough losses will stand to his players.

The Big Ten Soccer Report is a weekly online-only show that looks at the last action in Big Ten men’s and women’s soccer. Follow the show on Twitter @BTNSoccerReport and find previous shows here.

On Sunday, Michigan took No. 8 Notre Dame to two OT periods before losing 2-1 in heartbreaking fashion. Hopefully this battle-hardened team is now pumped for conference play, rather than deflated. No rest for Daley and his new troops, though, as they travel to Evanston this Sunday.

[Related: Find Michigan's full schedule at MGoBlue.com.]

Northwestern looks like a solid, organized and extremely efficient unit. They’re the only Big Ten team that remains undefeated (5-0-2), and Tim Lenahan must be confident ahead of this weekend’s conference opener at Lakeside Field. This past weekend’s Lakeside Classic defines the Wildcat team perfectly. At times Northwestern seemed like the technically weaker side against Iona and Milwaukee, but they were rarely troubled at the back and went on to win both games 2-0.

[Related: Find Northwestern's full schedule at NUsports.com.]

Coach Lenahan possesses a smart soccer team, capable of seamlessly implementing his instructions. Every team needs a solid spine and in keeper Tyler Miller, central defenders Nikko Boxall and Jarrett Baughman, middle man Chris Ritter and poacher supreme Joey Calistri, the Wildcats have all the ingredients for success.

Friday brings the meeting of Penn State and Wisconsin in Madison, and for me this in an extremely intriguing game. Both Bob Warming and John Trask are in their third years as their program’s head coach, so both will crave a season that see’s the fruits of their labor.

[Related: Find Penn State's full schedule at GoPSUsports.com.]

Penn State is an impressive 5-1-1 after a very productive preseason, but surprisingly they’ve only played one game on the road, that a 2-1 loss at Georgetown. Wisconsin on the other hand is 2-2-3 and is without a home win after just two games at McClimon Complex. Those statistics alone make this game extremely hard to call.

[Related: Find Wisconsin's full schedule at UWBadgers.com.]

Big Ten Standings (as of Sept. 16)
Team Record Pct. Pts. Record Pct.
Northwestern 0-0-0 .000 0 5-0-2 .857
Indiana 0-0-0 .000 0 5-1-1 .786
Penn St. 0-0-0 .000 0 5-1-1 .786
Wisconsin 0-0-0 .000 0 2-2-3 .500
Ohio St. 0-0-0 .000 0 3-3-1 .500
Michigan 0-0-0 .000 0 2-4-0 .333
Michigan St. 0-0-0 .000 0 2-5-1 .312

After two wins on the bounce, Ohio State is looking like a team that will challenge for Big Ten honors, but they will need Chris Hegngi to start firing. Hegngi was the Buckeye’s top marksman last season, but the big striker has yet to register a goal in 579 minutes this term.

[Related: Find Ohio State's full schedule at OhioStateBuckeyes.com.]

Indiana is finding the back of the net easier and looks like a team that’s gelling at the right time. In Eriq Zavaleta they have a goal scorer that can bring others into play, and with A.J. Corrado, Jacob Bushue and Nikita Kotlov supporting, the Hoosiers may have too much for Ohio State this weekend.

[Related: Find Indiana's full schedule at IUHoosiers.com.]

All in all, it’s been a mixed preseason for our Big Ten teams – full standings at BigTen.com – but there’s no time to dwell and reflect. This weekend it’s time to remove the shackles and play for your coaches, teammates and the jersey. A good start to Big Ten play is imperative so I expect to see fast-paced, hard-hitting soccer.

Good luck, lads!

Hayes picks up where she left off
Maya Hayes marked her return to Big Ten soccer on Sunday with an action-packed, skillful display, topped off with a quality game-winner in the second-half against Wisconsin. Nittany Lions head coach Erica Walsh opted to play Hayes on the right flank, due to the production of Tani Costa and Mallory Weber up front while Hayes was away with the US international team.

Word from Penn State last week was that Hayes would start on the bench as Coach Walsh wanted to rest her prized asset ahead of a grueling season, but not only did Hayes start, she tormented the Badger defense with her silky skills and raw pace. Hayes’ strike in the 48th minute means she’s up and running for the 2012, and the U.S. International will look to continue on from last season’s 31-goal haul.

Penn State is a very impressive side that plays attractive football. I expect big things from the Nittany Lions this year, both in Big Ten play and beyond, and no matter what happens, I expect Hayes to stay smiling!

Kevin Egan is the host of the BTN Soccer Report, an online-only weekly show spotlighting Big Ten men’s and women’s soccer. Want to send a note to Egan about Big Ten soccer and the BTN Internet show? Use the form below and subscribe to the Big Ten Soccer Report RSS here.

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