Aug. 19, 2009
DeKALB - While Northern Illinois students are settling down into their new dorm rooms on "Move-In Day," Thursday, the NIU men's soccer team will be gearing up to play No. 12 Notre Dame in a season-opening exhibition match at the NIU Soccer and Track & Field Complex.
Kick-off for the match is set for 5 p.m., and admission is free. Because of move-in day traffic, attendees planning on arriving before 4:30 p.m. should park in the Human Resources lot next to the water tower. Fans arriving after 4:30 p.m. can park in Lot C2, outside the Convocation Center.
Through the first several days of his first preseason camp as head coach, Eric Luzzi is happy with his team's progress.
"We're developing a good personality, and coming together as a group," Luzzi said. "We have kids of good character, and good personality that are team guys and work very hard."
The Huskies return nine starters and 17 letterwinners from a team that lost in double-overtime to fourth-ranked Akron in the Mid-American Conference Championship game. Included among the returners is a senior class that won a MAC title in 2006 as freshmen.
The Fighting Irish went 12-7-2, finished first in the BIG EAST Blue Division and lost to Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Notre Dame brings back eight starters from that squad, including BIG EAST First Team selections Dave Donohue and Michael Thomas.
The teams last met in 2007 in South Bend, when the Huskies took the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish to the limit, and came away with a 1-1 tie. Luzzi said he got a strong impression of Notre Dame's high skill level during that match.
"We learned that Notre Dame is always going to be a very good team, and always going to be very organized," he said. Luzzi described the Fighting Irish defense as "athletic and technical" and noted that their offense has a piece in 2009 it was missing in 2007.
"Last time we played them they didn't have a guy up top like Bright Dike (DEE-kay), who is a handful," Luzzi said. "He is probably one of the most difficult players in the country to find a way to deal with."
While Luzzi will concern himself with how to stop Dike, who led the Irish with 12 goals last season, he will be equally focused on the development of the Huskie newcomers.
"We're looking to see how well the newcomers are acclimating," Luzzi said. "We'll watch how they are fitting in with the group, how they are understanding the concepts of the system, and how they are adjusting to the general pace of college soccer."
The result of Thursday's match will likely rest more on the shoulders of NIU's eight-man senior class.
"Our seniors are going to set the standard for the other guys in terms of the energy, and work rate," Luzzi said. "Their commitment to the things we've been doing in preseason will be required to compete tomorrow."
After the Notre Dame match, the Huskies host DePaul, Aug. 26, in the final exhibition match of the year. Northern Illinois opens the regular season at home against Bradley, Sept. 1.