The Northwestern men’s soccer team finished the season in the Big Ten cellar with a 0-6 mark in conference play. In these six games, the Wildcats were outscored by a combined mark of 12-1. On Oct. 27, Northwestern suffered its worst loss of the season in a 5-0 shellacking by Michigan. So, what does Michigan coach Steve Burns think of this Wildcats squad, which the Wolverines face off against today in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament?

“They’re like a caged animal,” said Burns. “They’re very dangerous.”

Today, the second-seeded Wolverines go to battle against the seventh-seeded Wildcats, and although Northwestern served as the Big Ten’s punching bag in the regular season, Burns refuses to look ahead to a potential second-round matchup against either Ohio State or Michigan State.

“We don’t know what they’re going to put together,” Burns said. “I think that they could put together a great game and play with a ferocity which we just haven’t seen from them, and they could catch us off guard. So a lot of the training we are doing right now is psychological, in the sense that we don’t want our players looking past this game because this is the biggest game right here for us.”

The Wolverines will attempt to repeat their second best offensive output of the year (the aforementioned 5-0 drubbing), a final score that Burns says may have been a bit deceiving.

“We had a very good game against Northwestern,” Burns said. “Four of the five goals we scored in that game were ‘nice’ goals. But, ‘nice’ goals don’t come all the time. So, I think you could say that we were in form and we finished well that day, but it certainly could have been a much tighter score.”

Although the game may have been closer than the score indicated, Burns expects the Wildcats to incorporate a different game plan than the “toe-to-toe” attack that they utilized Oct. 27.

“If I were their coach, I would look to pack it in,” Burns said. “I would look to keep it a low scoring affair, and I think we’ll see that.”

The Wildcats are paced by freshman scoring machine Tito Lara. The forward led Northwestern with 13 points on six goals and one assist. In goal, Northwestern boasts a solid keeper in J.D. Martin, who has produced a 1.29 goals-against average.

Although these two Wildcats could present Michigan with a challenge, the player who may hinder the Wolverines’ production the most may not even be on the Northwestern roster.

Michigan will have to play through the Big Ten tournament without its second-leading point scorer, Knox Cameron, who is currently representing the United States on the Under-20 national team.

“What we’ve learned so far (during Cameron’s absence) is that you can think about how you’re going to play without one of your better players on the field, but until you actually get some games, that may not be true,” Burns said.

But Burns does believe he has made leeway in replacing Cameron.

“The two scenarios that we thought we’d use without Knox Cameron have both proved to be false,” Burns said. “We’re now on our third, and we think we’ve figured it out in terms of Ian Hirschfield and Karl Lopata at attacking-mid positions.”

If Michigan’s adjustments are successful, and it beats Northwestern, it will face one of two archrivals tomorrow: Both teams, Ohio State and Michigan State, finished tied with the Wolverines for second place in the Big Ten regular season. The prospective matchup against either team excites Burns.

“Both of these teams would give us a great game, and we would look forward to that if we can get past Northwestern,” Burns said.

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