Sept. 5, 2007
DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois men's soccer team continues its season against two of the best teams in the country this weekend at the Mike Berticelli Invitational in South Bend, Ind.
The Huskies open play Friday at 5 p.m. against No. 4 Indiana, then face No. 9 Notre Dame, Sunday at 2 p.m.
"This is a great opportunity for NIU soccer, and I want our guys to enjoy the experience," Huskie head coach Steve Simmons said.
While this weekend will be the first time NIU has faced top-10 teams back-to-back, the team won't be in entirely uncharted waters. The Huskies faced both the Hoosiers and the Fighting Irish in 2006.
"The returning players have played these teams before, so they'll be grounded going into the weekend," Simmons said. "They know what the expect from these elite teams, which will allow them to focus on their own performances, and the things they can control."
Last season, Northern Illinois played then-No. 21 Notre Dame to a scoreless draw, and battled Indiana in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where the Huskies fell 1-0. Simmons is confident his team can again compete with the touted opponents.
"I've always thought in Division-I soccer you don't have to be better, just good enough," Simmons said. "We've closed the gap enough in the last few years to complete against this caliber of team."
The Huskies will take the field with a variety of offensive options, as three players have scored goals early in the 2007 campaign. As a team, NIU leads the Mid-American Conference in shots taken, and is tied for the MAC lead in corner kicks.
"Our offensive has held its own in our first two matches," Simmons said. "Certainly it's nice to see defensive players like Chris Rufa and Drew Jeskey contribute offensively."
Northern Illinois will have to deal with strong offensive players in both matches this weekend, starting with the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, Kevin Noschang. The Hoosier forward scored the game-winning goal in the 75th minute of Indiana's 1-0 victory over then-No. 1 UCLA.
"Indiana has some talented attacking pieces, and they return a significant number of players from last season," Simmons said.
After trying to slow down Noschang and the Hoosiers, Friday, the Huskies will have to deal with Notre Dame's senior forward Joe Lapira, the winner of the 2006 M.A.C. Hermann Trophy, the most prestigious individual award in college soccer.
"He's going to be a pro one day," Simmons said of Lapira. "But he also has talented teammates that provide depth and personality, plus they are at home."
Simmons also believes the Irish have a top-notch leader on the sidelines.
"Bobby Clark is one of, if not the best coach in the country year-in and year-out," Simmons said. "He'll have them on the same page and well-prepared for this weekend."
The Huskies will also look to be ready for the weekend, as they get set to face two of the nation's elite.
"We look forward to the opportunity to see how we measure up," Simmons said. "As long as we do our best and leave nothing behind, we'll live with the result."