Oct. 11, 2007
DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois men's soccer team will face No. 22 Akron Saturday in a match-up that features the Mid-American Conference's two top soccer squads from 2006.
"Both sets of players should be up for this game," Northern Illinois head coach Steve Simmons said. "There's not a lot of motivating that the coaches have to do."
The Huskies (4-5-3, 1-0-0 MAC) topped Akron (8-2-1, 1-0-0 MAC) twice in 2006, claiming the Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament titles at the Zips' expense.
"Anytime these two teams play, there's usually something on the line, and the atmosphere is fantastic," Simmons said.
In the case of Saturday's game, the stakes could be as high as the top seed in the MAC Tournament.
"Because there are only five MAC games, the conference race is kind of like BCS football where you lose one game and you're potentially out," Simmons said. "To win the MAC, the margin for error has always been very tight, and it's no different this year."
NIU is currently tied with Akron and Buffalo at 1-0 in conference play. The team that wins the regular season championship will earn the rights to host the 2007 MAC Tournament.
To get the upper hand in the conference race, the Huskies' defense will have to focus on stopping a potent Zips offense. Akron has three players who have scored three goals this season, and the Zips lead the conference in goals scored with 20 on the season.
"They have a lot of nice attacking pieces," Simmons said. "They move the ball well, and they have a fantastic coach in Caleb Porter."
For the Huskies, the offense and defense seem to be clicking at the right time. After scoring no more than two goals in a match all season, the Northern attack exploded with four goals against Western Michigan, while the defense shutout both the Broncos and Western Illinois last weekend.
"We've been playing well all season, but it seems like we got some breaks last weekend that we hadn't been getting earlier in the year," Simmons said. "It's also a matter of players making plays, and our guys have done a good job of that."
Like Akron, NIU has gotten offense from an array of players. Senior forward Marcus McCarty
(Fort Worth, Texas/Fossil Ridge) leads the team with three scores, while three other players have contributed two goals.
The Huskies kick-off against the Zips at 6:30 p.m. (CST) and fans can track to action with live stats at www.gozips.com.