Oct. 4, 2012
Soccer in the United States in 1962 bore little resemblance to the game in this country today. In 1962, the U.S. was 12 years removed from its last appearance in the World Cup, having failed to qualify for three consecutive tournaments. Professional soccer in the U.S., in the form of the North American Soccer League, was still six years away.
Fast forward to today and soccer in the United States is thriving. The U.S. men’s national team has qualified for the last six World Cups and professional soccer, in the form of Major League Soccer, is currently in its 17th season.
But while much has changed with the game in the last 50 years, one thing that has not changed has been the presence of a varsity team at Northern Illinois University.
Tomorrow, October 5, will mark the anniversary of the first varsity soccer match in NIU history, when the Huskies traveled to Grinnell College.
In the spring of 1960, a group of students from the Northern Illinois International Club began an informal soccer club. The following fall, NIU foreign student adviser Jack Peterson took that club a step further, setting up a more formal soccer squad. After practicing throughout the fall, the club played its first game on November 27, 1960, dropping a 3-1 decision to the Harmony Singing Society of Rockford. Ali Taher scored the lone goal for the NIU club.
The club progressed through 1961 and NIU soccer was granted varsity status prior to the 1962 season.
On October 5, 1962, NIU played the first varsity soccer match in school history, dropping at 6-0 decision at Grinnell College in Iowa. The Huskies played five games that season, losing all five while scoring just one goal.
A little more than one year after playing its first varsity game, NIU would record its first win, defeating Dubuque, 1-0, on October 12, 1963. In just its second season, NIU came within one win of a .500 record, finishing the year 3-4. John Kessler and Ray Nakamura each scored four goals to lead the team that season.
The program continued to steadily grow and, in 1967, just the sixth year of its existence, the Huskies posted a 6-1-0 record under head coach William Healey. A year later, the Huskies went 8-1-0, defeating Marquette, Purdue, Notre Dame and Illinois along the way. Eric Roy, the brother of future NIU head coach Willy Roy Sr., scored 16 goals in 1968 and finished his NIU career with 43 tallies (1967-69), still third all-time in NIU history. Roy was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999.
Under new head coach Dave Bucher, NIU capped an impressive three-year run with an 8-1-0 mark in 1969. On September 27 of that year, NIU hosted the first intercollegiate soccer match in Illinois played on AstroTurf as the Huskies defeated Marquette, 5-0, at Huskie Stadium. One week later, a crowd of more than 8,000 watched the Huskies take on eventual national champion Saint Louis in the stadium.
In 1970, the Huskie soccer program reached another milestone when Allan Zelechowski became the first All-American in program history. A halfback and sweeper, Zelechowski was inducted in the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002.
More program milestones were set in 1971 as All-American Ed Kositzki capped his stellar career at NIU. Kositzki scored 27 goals that season, still a single-season school record, including a record seven in a game, twice, first against Valparaiso on Oct. 9 and again versus Ball State on Oct. 23.
Koitzki finished his three-year career at NIU with 45 goals, which is still tied for the school career record (with Nils Kloster, 1983-86).
In Bucher’s fifth season, 1973, Northern Illinois made its first NCAA Tournament appearance. With a 7-1-2 regular season mark, the Huskies earned an NCAA bid; becoming just the second team in school history to reach the NCAA postseason since earning University Division status in 1969 (the first was the NIU baseball team in 1972).
Following NIU’s regular season finale, a 2-0 victory over 13th-ranked Wisconsin-Green Bay, Dr. Walter Ersing of Ohio State, chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said this of the Huskies.
“We felt Northern had a very respectable won-loss record. They performed well against Wisconsin-Green Bay. In the SIU (Edwardsville) game they came up with one of the better performances against that team, even though it was a loss.”
In the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies would again face SIU Edwardsville, the only school to defeat NIU during the regular season. Although they fell 3-0 in the rematch, Bucher and the Huskies built upon the momentum of reaching the tournament, going on to post winning records in each of the next five seasons.
Individual honors also continued to roll in during Bucher’s tenure. Goalkeeper Pete Mannos was the first, and to-date only, two-time All-American in program history, having received First Team All-America recognition in 1974 and ’75. Mannos was joined by midfielder Paul Wenson on the All-America list in 1975, Wenson earned second team honors.
On January 15, 1976, the pair was both selected in the North American Soccer League Draft. Wenson was taken 12th overall by the Chicago Sting while Mannos went 21st to the San Antonio Thunder. In his pro debut, Mannos and the Thunder posted a 1-0 victory over the New York Cosmos, led by the legendary Pele.
Mannos played five seasons professionally and, in 1985, became the first Huskie soccer player inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Bucher concluded his 11-year run as NIU head coach in 1979, finishing with a 69-36-16 record in his time at NIU.
Prior to the 1980 season, John Lewang was hired to lead the Huskie program. Lewang went 5-7-2 in one season at the helm before tragically dying in a car accident. In honor of Lewang, Northern Illinois and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Lewang served as an assistant coach, compete annually for the Lewang Cup.
John Collins was a graduate assistant to Lewang in 1980 and, following the car accident, took over as the head coach of the Huskies. Collins was the youngest head coach in the nation, just 24 years old, when he took over and he went on to lead NIU to a 46-52-9 mark in six seasons.
The 1984 season was the brightest moment of Collins’ tenure. The Huskies went 13-5-1 that season, rising as high as 16th in the national rankings. NIU won the first Illinois Governor’s Cup championship as well as the Midwest Metropolitan Soccer Conference crown. Johan Bergseth earned Third Team All-America honors and Collins was named NSCAA Midwest Division I Coach of the Year.
Bergseth finished his NIU career with 34 goals, tied for fourth in NIU history, and 23 assists. He was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.
In 1987, Willy Roy Sr., took over as head coach of the Huskies, leading the program to 142 victories over the next 16 seasons. Roy brought tremendous credibility to the NIU program, having made 20 appearances with the U.S. Men’s National Team as a player. Roy was also the head coach of the Chicago Sting from 1979-86, earning NASL Coach of the Year honors in 1981 while twice leading the Sting to Soccer Bowl championships (1981, ’84). He was inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 1989.
Roy’s first season coincided with NIU joining the Big Central Conference, a league the Huskies would call home for three seasons. In that third season, 1989, Roy guided the Huskies to a program-record with 14 victories. The Huskies won the Big Central Conference title and Roy was named NSCAA Midwest Division I Coach of the Year.
The following season NIU joined the Mid-Continent Conference and once again claimed a conference title, wining the MCC regular season crown en route to a 13-5-2 mark.
The early years of Roy’s tenure were a family affair as his three sons played a large part in NIU’s success. Willy Roy Jr. was a three-time all-conference honoree and is tied for second in school history with 111 points. Karsten Roy was a defender who earned all-region honors twice and later joined his father as an assistant coach with the Huskies. Markus Roy was a two-time all-region goalkeeper and went on to become a member of the Dallas Burn of Major League Soccer. For their collective contribution to NIU soccer, the Roy Family was inducted into the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011.
While the 1990 crown would be NIU’s only conference championship in the Mid-Con, Roy and the Huskies continued to find success, winning 11 games in both 1991 and 1993 while collecting 10 victories in 1994.
In 1997 the Huskies moved into the Mid-American Conference and, on the soccer field, NIU began a string of three-straight double-digit win seasons. Eirik Frederiksen posted 52 points during the ’97 campaign, ranking second in the nation in scoring, as NIU posted a 10-9-1 mark.
The 1998 season saw NIU finish with a 12-4-1 record, finishing 22nd nationally in win percentage. The Huskies advanced to the MAC Tournament championship game in 1999, falling just one win shy of reaching the NCAA Tournament while recording a 12-9-0 mark.
Steve Simmons joined the NIU program as head coach in 2003. After winning just three games in his first season, Simmons brought the Huskies back to prominence with three consecutive double-digit win seasons. The Huskies won 12 games in 2004 and 11 in 2005 before setting a new school record with 15 victories in 2006.
That season, Northern Illinois returned to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history when Simmons led the Huskies to a Mid-American Conference Tournament championship, defeating Akron 1-0 in the title game. In the big dance, NIU recorded its first tournament victory with a 1-0 triumph over Loyola (Chicago) on November 11 in DeKalb. The Huskies bowed out of the tournament with a 1-0 loss at seventh-seeded Indiana.
NIU finished the 2006 season with a 15-6-1 record and goalkeeper Joe Zimka set an NCAA record with a 0.21 goals against average. The Huskies were ranked as high as No. 19 nationally and Simmons was named NSCAA Division I Regional Coach of the Year.
Following two more seasons under Simmons’ leadership, the reigns of the Huskie men’s soccer program were turned over to current head coach Eric Luzzi. A former assistant under Simmons, Luzzi started his tenure at NIU in impressive fashion, tying top-ranked North Carolina on the road in just his second game as head coach. Luzzi and the Huskies went on to record a 10-8-1 record in 2009, including victories over Oregon State and Wisconsin. Luzzi was the first NIU head coach since 1969 to have a winning record in his first season.
The Huskies posted another winning record in 2010, going 9-6-2, including victories over Northwestern and Wisconsin.
In year three under Luzzi, the Huskies went to new heights, making the third NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. The 2011 Huskies finished with a 15-6-0 mark, winning the Mid-American Conference Tournament championship and defeating Western Illinois, 3-0, in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies were ranked as high as No. 13 in the NSCAA poll and finished with a program-best RPI of 24. Five Huskies received All-MAC honors and four players were named to the NSCAA All-Great Lakes region team, the most for any school in the region.
On the eve of the program’s 50th anniversary, Huskie soccer continues to celebrate its past and looks forward to continued success in the future.
"It's pretty amazing to step back and realize that our program has been in existence for 50 years,” said Luzzi. “Although our program has won a lot of games in that time period, and accumulated a few trophies, the defining feature of our program will always be the people that have been a part of it. We have had some great players, and even better people wear the Huskie soccer jersey with pride over the last half-century. Personally, I am honored to be a small part of the history and tradition of the NIU Soccer program, and I look forward to helping our program become even better in the future."