Nov. 12, 2007
DeKALB, Ill. - The Northern Illinois men's soccer team starts the Mid-American Conference Tournament, Tuesday, looking to avenge a loss to Bowling Green suffered in the last MAC regular season game of the year.
The Huskies (6-8-4, 1-3-1 MAC) face the Falcons (6-9-3, 2-2-1) in Bowling Green, Ohio at noon. It will be the second between the teams in less than two weeks. The Falcons scored two early goals en route to a 3-1 win over NIU, Nov. 2.
"(Our players) have asked questions of themselves every week," NIU head coach Steve Simmons said. "So the type of hunger going into Bowling Green will be pretty strong."
Simmons the level of internal competition among his players has been high leading up to the match.
"They know that positionally spots are open, regardless of seniority, because it's that time of year and it needs to happen," Simmons said.
The contention for spots includes a contest between senior Brian Van Buren (Sycamore, Ill./Sycamore) and junior Joe Zimka (Algonquin, Ill./Jacobs) for the role of starting goalkeeper.
"Both of them are still battling," Simmons said. "It's tight, and we'll have another training session tonight and see where it lies."
Regardless of the situation in the net, the Huskies will have all of their attacking pieces available for Tuesday's match-up. Senior Marcus McCarty (Fort Worth, Texas/Fossil Ridge) leads the team and is tied for third in the MAC with five goals. Behind him, senior Fraser Gibson (Dumbarton, Scotland/Dumbarton Academy) and junior Chris Johnson (Colorado, Colo./Yavapai C.C.) have each put three shots into the back of the net.
"The (offensive) pieces that we have this year all bring some pretty significant things to the table, but they all have things that have caused them to be less effective than they can be," Simmons said.
"If they can address those things, I think you'll see a team peaking at the right time of year."
The Huskies hit their apex at the right time in 2006, winning the MAC Tournament and making it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before falling 1-0 to then-No. 4 Indiana. This year, Simmons looks for team focus to lead to a MAC Championship.
"The mentality coming into the game to put in a full 90 minutes of mental engagement to the task at hand," Simmons said. "When you do that, it unlocks the talent."
The talent Simmons spoke of has been exhibited throughout the season. The Huskies hold a win over No. 9 Northwestern, as well as ties against No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 22 Akron.
The Huskies will try to find the focus that brought them those results Tuesday as they start the path to a second consecutive Mid-American Conference Championship.