Nov. 11, 2011
AKRON, Ohio -- Sophomore Gael Rivera (Oslo, Norway/WANG Elite Sports Academy) scored the lone goal of the match as the Northern Illinois men's soccer team defeated Buffalo, 1-0, on Friday night in the Mid-American Conference Semifinals. Rivera's 63rd minute tally, off a feed from freshman Isaac Kannah (Plymouth, Minn./Prairie Seeds Academy), lifted the Huskies into Sunday afternoon's MAC Championship game against Western Michigan.
"It's been too long since we've reached the MAC Tournament Championship," said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. "We didn't qualify last year and we fell in the semifinals the year before. I couldn't be prouder of the guys right now. As we expected, the match flowed like a tournament game. There was a lot of transition, there were stretches when it was wide open, high energy, set pieces -- it had all of those elements and we grinded out the win after a great goal by Gael."
The Huskies started the match on the attack, nearly opening the scoring in the 5th minute. Senior James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungo's) moved the ball past the midfield, forcing the Bulls' defenders to collapse, allowing Stevenson to send a through ball to Kannah. The freshman darted for the 18-yard box and sent a ball back to Stevenson at the far post but the pass just missed its intended target.
In the eighth minute, senior Finn Jor (Oslo, Norway/Academy for Elite Athletes) moved through the midfield and towards the penalty area. From about 23 yards, and with wide open real estate in front of him, Jor fired a shot towards the net that cannoned the ball off the crossbar and back out of the box.
NIU allowed just one shot in the first half.
"Outside of set pieces, our center backs did a really good job of not allowing many shots to slip through to Jordan (Godsey)," said Luzzi. "We have a senior in Francis (Otira) who is very good at communicating to his teammates what needs to be done and that helped us tonight."
In the opening 26 seconds of the second half, sophomore Karim Darbaki (Fairbualt, Minn./Shattuck St. Mary's) took a shot from inside the box that sailed just right of the inside post. Darbaki had another opportunity 10 minutes later when his long-range effort hit the post and went out of play.
The Huskies finally broke the deadlock in the 63rd minute. Kannah, at the top of the penalty area, dished the ball off to Rivera on the right side, who slipped a ball over the hand over the Buffalo goalkeeper for a slow roller into the back post to give NIU the 1-0 lead.
The Bulls mounted an attempt at an equalizer, but the NIU backline did not allow a single shot to reach junior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs). Godsey's only save of the match came in the first period.
"It was going to be hard because it's the MAC Tournament," said senior defender Francis Otira. "We wanted to put the game away early because we knew that Buffalo is a very tough team - they will come back and play tough. It was a credit to all the boys on the field when we scored the goal. We did what we had to do to score the goal and it worked."
The Huskies improve to 13-5-0 this season, while UB ends its season 8-8-2. Northern Illinois will play for the MAC's automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament on Sunday against Western Michigan, who upset top-seeded Akron on penalty kicks in the first semifinal. The championship match between the Huskies and Broncos will kickoff at 3 p.m. CT.