April 23, 2009
DeKALB - The Northern Illinois men's soccer team concluded its spring season with a 4-0 win over Green Bay, Saturday, and continued to redefine itself for the upcoming 2009 season.
Head coach Steve Simmons, who will enter his seventh season at Northern Illinois next year, used the spring for player development, and to mold the personality of his team.
"The spring is a redefinition of the group, because when you lose valuable seniors, it becomes a different team," Simmons said. "It's the affirmation of a new identity, which is absolutely vital going forward."
If this spring was any indication, the Huskies have begun establishing an identity of hard-nosed competitiveness combined with high-level skill. Northern Illinois went 5-1 during the exhibition season, outscoring its opponents by a total of 12 goals-to-two. In addition to their win over Green Bay, the Huskies beat Milwaukee (1-0), Eastern Illinois (2-0), Western Illinois (1-1, PKs), and Jefferson College (4-0). The two goals-per-match average is a nearly 50 percent increase from the 2008 team's output.
"It was nice to see more goals and players really come into form," Simmons said. "We put people in different spots. I was very curious with a bunch of our players to see if they could play different spots ability-wise and chemistry-wise. We felt like we were able to come away with a lot going into the fall."
While the offense picked up, so did the defense. With just two goalkeepers, Chris Tidwell (Shabbona, Ill./Indian Creek) and Eduardo Asuaje (Monterrey, Mexico/American School Foundation of Monterrey), on the spring roster, both needed to step up to fill the void left by 2008 senior Joe Zimka (Algonquin, Ill./Jacobs).
"Chris and Eduardo worked awfully hard to get their skill and confidence level up," Simmons said. "I saw that rising as the spring went on and I think they've done well to make a case for themselves. More importantly, they established confidence with the team and that's what a keeper does."
Tidwell and Asuaje will be joined between the posts by 2009 freshman Jordan Godsey
, and possibly one other keeper.
"We are excited to see how that goal-keeping competition unfolds," Simmons said. "We have a handful of guys that are going to be coming in, but like (head NIU football) coach (Jerry) Kill says, `they are all paper tigers right now,' and I believe that."
The goalkeepers weren't the only players to impress Simmons during the spring.
"Ben Thomas got some goals under his belt, and now has confidence oozing out of him," Simmons said. "Juan Hoyos was able to have a very strong campaign at forward, and, though he still has more to do, I thought there was some significant improvement there."
Simmons also complimented the outings of several midfielders.
"Obviously, Brad Horton will continue to improve, and I thought Luis De La Cerda was very strong this spring," Simmons said. "You look throughout the lineup and I thought we had a number of guys produce some pretty significant moments that were promising."
Those promising spring moments can translate into the fall, Simmons said, as long as the Huskies work hard during the summer.
"What they do between now and when they check in this fall will be the tell-tale sign of how we want to start," Simmons said. "If we start in August where we left off, I think we will be in good shape."