Nov. 13, 2009
AKRON, Ohio -
The Northern Illinois men's soccer team did something against the best team in the country no one else had. The Huskies took consensus No. 1 Akron to overtime, then to double-overtime, before the Zips scored in the 101st minute to take a 1-0 win from NIU in the Mid-American Conference semifinals, Friday.
"The result is disappointing and painful, but the performance is nothing to hang their heads about," said Eric Luzzi, who guided the Huskies 10 wins this season, the most by a first-year head coach in NIU history.
All-American candidate Darlington Nagbe put the game-winner past Northern Illinois goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs) early in the second overtime period on what Luzzi called "a really quality soccer goal."
"Our guys defended really well throughout the match, and it was going to take something special to break us down," Luzzi said.
Nagbe used a perfectly timed diagonal run to get behind the Huskie defense, then chipped the ball past Godsey who was sprinting off his line to meet the play.
"Darlington made a special play to finish in that situation," Luzzi said.
While the Huskie season ended with a disappointing result, the Huskies became the first team to find a chink in the Akron armor. The Zips, now 19-0-0, had won every match while outscoring their opponents 55-8, and had not been taken into extra time.
"We're the only team that's brought them to overtime," Luzzi said. "It doesn't make the pain any less, especially for our seniors, but we did accomplish something no one else has done to this point."
The match was the last in the Cardinal and Black for seven Huskie seniors. Brad Bahr, Luis De La Cerda, Josh Karsten, Danny Lopez, Dennis Lysenka, Ben Thomas, and Aaron Zendejas represented one of the best four-year men's soccer runs in NIU history. In the last four seasons, the Huskies won a MAC Championship, went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, upset two top-10 teams, and racked up 43 wins.
"I thanked our team, and especially our seniors, for everything they've given to the program," Luzzi said of his postgame comments to team. "The seniors have set a standard for what we are now going expect every senior class to become."
The season that started with the idea of sacrificing oneself for the good of the team, ended with a more tangible theme.
"These last few weeks we've talked a lot about bleeding for the cause, bleeding for each other, and the guys did that tonight as well as any team I've ever been a part of," Luzzi said. "I am going to miss the seniors, who gave their entire lives to our program for four years."
The Huskies will return 21 players who absorbed everything they could from the seven seniors, and Luzzi is already thinking toward 2010.
"I'm also excited to get back at it and start to build our teams personality for next season."