Zirretta's Goal Clinches Second-Place MAC Finish

GO HUSKIES Sophomore Matt Zirretta scored his first goal, Thursday, a game-winner against Western Michigan.
Sophomore Matt Zirretta scored his first goal, Thursday, a game-winner against Western Michigan.

Nov. 6, 2008

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. - Their bus was busted, but the Northern Illinois men's soccer team's engine ran on all cylinders, as the Huskies defeated Western Michigan, 2-1, to clinch second place in the Mid-American Conference.

The Huskies arrived at the field just 30 minutes prior to kick-off after their bus broke down, but used goals from Ben Thomas (Fairfield, Ohio/Hamilton) and Matt Zirretta (Cedar Rapids, Iowa/Kennedy) to improve to 4-1-1 in Mid-American Conference play. The Huskies are now 9-5-4 overall, one victory shy of their fourth double-digit win season in five years.

"There were a lot of distractions that could have put our guys on their back foot, but they responded superbly," head coach Steve Simmons said.

That response included a 9-1 advantage in shots and 4-0 edge in corner kicks in the first half, but those chances yielded no goals. The pressure finally paid off early in the 49th minute, as Thomas scored after a throw-in from Danny Lopez (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) was flicked on by Tim King (Arlington Heights, Ill./Conant).

"Ben got on it and pounded it," Simmons said. "That was coming off many, many other chances."

But the Broncos (3-12-1, 2-3-0 MAC) responded just eight minutes later, as Saeed Sulemana Baba took advantage of a defensive miscue to tie the match, 1-1.

"We had a little miscommunication, went in on tackle and the ball squirted out, and went in on another tackle and the ball squirted out again," Simmons said. "The ball just didn't squirt out in our direction."

The Huskies answered in the 73rd minute, as Zirretta, a sophomore transfer, scored his first career goal by picking up a rebound off a shot from Brad Horton (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore).

"We're certainly very happy for Matt to have gotten his first goal as a Huskie," Simmons said. "But he's just one of many players who were on top of their game tonight."

Northern Illinois has now finished in second place or better in the MAC regular season in four of the last five years. The Huskies will battle Bowling Green, a team NIU defeated 1-0 earlier this season, in the opening round of the conference tournament, Thursday, Nov. 13 at 10 a.m. (CST).

"We are going into the MAC Tournament feeling really good about our position," Simmons said. "We're excited to prepare for the tournament and put our best foot forward."