Oct. 1, 2008
DeKALB - The 23rd-ranked Northern Illinois men's soccer team hosts No. 6 Akron, Saturday at 1 p.m. at the new NIU Soccer/Track and Field Complex, in a match-up of the last two Mid-American Conference champions.
In each of the last four seasons, the winner of the game between the Zips (6-1-2, 1-0-0 MAC) and the Huskies (6-1-2, 1-0-0 MAC) has gone on to win the conference tournament, and earn an automatic bid the NCAA Championship.
"The fans are going to be able to see and feel how much it means to both teams," NIU Head Coach Steve Simmons said. "At the end of the day, I think you could see possibly the result of this particular game shaping the way the MAC is going to finish out."
Saturday's game pits two top-25 teams against each other in DeKalb for the first time since Oct. 16, 2005, when the 22nd-ranked men's soccer team battled No. 25 Milwaukee.
This weekend's match comes early in the conference season, with both teams having played just one MAC contest. Both NIU and Akron defeated new affiliate member Florida Atlantic. Outside of conference play, each has high profile wins on the record. Northern Illinois defeated then No. 2 SMU in overtime two weeks ago, and Akron defeated then No. 3 Notre Dame to open the season.
The Huskies are off the their best start in a decade, helped by a egalitarian offense that has seen 11 players score, and leads the MAC in goals per game. While freshman Brad Horton (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) leads the team with four goals, four other players have scored twice, with six more owning one goal. Northern Illinois has also displayed a stout defense, with senior goalkeeper Joe Zimka (Algonquin, Ill./Jacobs) holding a 0.72 goals against average and five shutouts.
The Zips enter Saturday's match on a three-game winning streak, with wins over FAU, Cleveland State and Stony Brook. And if the Huskies' scoring has been egalitarian, Akron's attack has been autocratic. Zip forward Steve Zakuani leads the conference with seven goals, including three game-winners.
The last four matches between the teams have been ties or decided by one goal. Simmons sees the match-up as a top-tier event on the NIU campus.
"The affairs between the two teams have been so exciting, with so much on the line, it's really the epitome of college sports in my mind," he said.
In addition to being one of the biggest games of the year, Saturday is the Golden Greek Challenge, in which the fraternity or sorority with the highest percentage attendance will receive a golden soccer ball signed by the Huskies men's soccer team and free Chipotle burritos for their house. It's also Camper Appreciation Day, and the team will sign autographs after the game.
"This weekend is going to be a tremendous opportunity for us to to continue to where we want to go," Simmons said. "I'm sure the same can be said for the Akron boys."