Aug. 27, 2010
DeKALB - The Northern Illinois men's soccer team was picked to finish second in the Mid-American Conference, behind only consensus national preseason No. 1 Akron, league officials revealed Thursday.
The Huskies were picked ahead of Hartwick and Western Michigan, who tied for third in the poll. Buffalo, Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic rounded out the preseason ranking. Northern Illinois has finished in first or second place in the MAC in four of the last six seasons, including league regular season and tournament championships in 2006.
"That's great, but we pay absolutely no attention to it," second year head coach Eric Luzzi said of the ranking. "We need to focus on getting better everyday, because every single game on our schedule is difficult. "
Under Luzzi, NIU brings back eight starters and 14 letterwinners from a year ago. That team went 10-8-1, including a tie at then-No. 1 North Carolina. Scoring threats Brad Horton (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) and Juan Hoyos (Aurora, Ill./Waubonsie Valley) return after combining for 11 goals. The Huskies also get senior Kyle Knotek (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) back after the Academic All-American sat out 2009 with a knee injury.
"All of our returners and newcomers have been competing for playing time throughout the preseason," Luzzi said. "That competitiveness has made us better, and will continue to make us better throughout the season."
Northern Illinois plays its final preseason match Friday at IPFW. The Huskies have already defeated Indianapolis and Valparaiso in exhibition contests.
"We've shown some good things and a lot of things that need cleaning up in our exhibition games," Luzzi said.
The Huskies open the regular season Sept. 3 at No. 19 Portland. NIU plays its first home game against Oregon State, coached by former Northern Illinois head coach Steve Simmons, Sept. 10 at 5 p.m.