Nov. 3, 2009
DeKALB - The Northern Illinois men's soccer team, which entered the NCAA Great Lakes Regional rankings at No. 10 Tuesday, goes for its fifth straight win Wednesday at 2 p.m. when the Huskies host Western Michigan.
The match concludes the regular season for the Huskies (10-6-1, 3-2-0 Mid-American Conference), who could enter the MAC Tournament as the second seed with a win over the Broncos, and a Hartwick loss. The Hawks face the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, Akron, Nov. 7.
The Huskies four-game win streak has pushed them to their fifth 10-win season in the last six years, and earned them the 10th slot in the NCAA Great Lakes rankings. The regional rankings are one of several barometers used to determine at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. The Great Lakes Region is among the toughest in the nation, with five teams ranked in the top-25, including No. 1 Akron and No. 5 Louisville, and four others receiving votes.
Northern Illinois will focus on Western Michigan's attack, which includes 10-goal scorer Saeed Sulemana Baba.
"(Sulemana Baba) is a threat because he can get in behind the defense, he can run at players, he's a very good finisher and he pops up in dangerous places when you don't even know he was there," NIU head coach Eric Luzzi said.
Luzzi was quick to note that while Sulemana Baba has put in over one-third of the Bronco's scoring, he is surrounded by other talented players.
"By no means is (Sulemana Baba) all they have," he said. "All of our backs and our midfielders are going to be very sharp."
Stopping Sulemana Baba and the WMU attack could bring Northern Illinois its longest win streak since 2006, when NIU won six straight. The Huskies' success has come despite playing a brutal schedule that has included two matches against the No. 1 team in the country, games with top-20 competitors Tulsa and Northwestern, and match-ups against Oregon State, South Carolina, and 2008 NCAA Tournament player UNC-Greensboro.
A precise mix of explosive offense and stingy defense has put the Huskies in the mix for their fifth top-two finish in the MAC in six seasons. Northern Illinois has put up 31 goals this year, the most since 2004 when the Huskies tallied 32. They rank 27th in the nation in scoring offense with 1.82 goal per game. Combine that with the 18th-best goals against average in the country of 0.70 and it is apparent the Huskies are among the nation's dangerous teams.
With four players owning five or more goals, the Huskie offense has come from all sides. Defensively, behind a veteran frontline that includes senior captain Josh Karsten, freshman goalkeeper Jordan Godsey has put up the ninth-best saves percentage and 12th-best goals against average in the nation.
Luzzi knows the key to success isn't in the stats, but in the intensity his players bring to the field.
"If we continue to get some good individual performances and we continue to play with energy and edge, the rest usually takes care of itself," he said.
After Wednesday's match, the Huskies will take a week away from matches to prepare for the MAC Tournament. Northern Illinois secured a spot in the four-team championship last week, and will play in the conference semifinal Nov. 13 in Akron, Ohio.