Oct. 2, 2009
DeKalb, Ill. -- The Northern Illinois men's soccer team hopes to keep the ball rolling this Saturday when the Huskies open conference play against MAC foe Hartwick at 6 p.m. in Oneonta, N.Y.
NIU (5-3-1 overall, 0-0 MAC) enters the match after winning four of its last five games by an 11-1 scoring margin. The most recent wins came last weekend when the Huskies outscored Oregon State 2-0 before blanking Seattle 3-0 just 15 hours later.
"We are playing with great confidence," said head coach Eric Luzzi. "I think our guys know we are a good team and that we are capable of breaking down another team's defense. We have to keep the mindset that if we pay attention to the details and stay focused and tuned in, everything else will take care of itself."
Headed into the Hartwick match, the Huskies will have to put that confidence to the test as they go toe-to-toe with one of the conference's strongest defenses. The Hawks (5-2-1, 1-0) are lead by goal keeper Jeremy Vuolo, who ranks second in the MAC with a 0.28 goals against average. Vuolo has also notched five shutouts in seven starts, and has only been scored on twice. Offensively, Hartwick does not put up many shots, but Luzzi understands the threat in those statistics.
"Hartwick is a team that reinvests themselves every couple of years and that's because they rely heavily on international players," the coach said. "They have 12 or 13 newcomers, but we know that they will be very technical and edgy, and will play very good soccer."
NIU leads the MAC offensively, ranking first in shots (122) and corner opportunities (50). The Huskies also rank second in goals with 17, trailing only the consensus No. 1 team in the country Akron.
The last time NIU squared off with the Hawks, the Huskies snatched a 2-1 double-overtime victory in DeKalb. Former Huskie Drew Jeskey capitalized on a throw in by senior Danny Lopez to seal the win. Sophomore Brad Horton also chipped in, tying the game with a penalty kick to send the match into overtime.
The Huskies to start the MAC campaign much like they did last season, scoring four goals en route to victory over Florida-Atlantic. The team ultimately finished the conference in second place with a 4-1-1 final record.
"We've had a pretty strong record in the conference over the years and this year the goal is to reach the top four," Luzzi said. "Only the top four teams advance to the conference tournament, where last year it was seven. For that reason, as well as for keeping up with our success in the MAC, we need to position ourselves early to finish in the top four."
The Huskies return home Oct. 7 when they play host to Northwestern. The game is slated for a 4 p.m. start and admission is free.