Nov. 12, 2009
DeKALB - The Northern Illinois men's soccer team is hoping the third time is a charm. The Huskies play their third game this season against a top ranked team in the nation when they face No. 1 Akron Friday in the Mid-American Conference Tournament semifinals.
The Huskies (10-7-1, 3-3-0 MAC) enter the tournament as the fourth seed, and will face the undefeated Zips (18-0-0, 6-0-0 MAC) at 5 p.m. at Akron's Lee Jackson Field. NIU has gone 0-1-1 this year against the top team in the nation, tying North Carolina 1-1 in Chapel Hill, and falling 1-0 to the Zips in October.
Akron has been the number one team in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll since Sept. 8, and has been the consensus number one team in that poll for seven weeks. Though the Zips have outscored their opponents 55-8 this season, they have given up three goals in their last two matches, and the Huskies have confidence they challenge Akron's reign.
"Akron is clearly the best team in the country, but I know that our guys will be up for this game," Luzzi said. "We're going to go in there and battle them as hard as we always do."
The Huskies gained some confidence in the close loss to the Zips that NIU suffered Oct. 17. After nearly 70 minutes of scoreless soccer, the Zips' Michael Nanchoff scored the only goal of the game off a 19-yard free kick that deflected off the NIU wall to find its way into the net.
"We're a different team than we were a month ago, and they are too," Luzzi said. "This game will stand on its own regardless of what happened this year."
The Huskies have multiple scoring threats that will look to penetrate Akron's defense. Midfielder Luis De La Cerda and Brad Horton have each put away six goals this year, while Juan Hoyos and Josh Karsten have added five apiece.
Judging by recent history, if anyone has a chance to knock off the Zips, it's Northern Illinois. Since 2006, the Huskies are the only team to have beaten Akron. NIU did so twice in 2006 en route to a MAC Championship and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"We've had some good matches over the last couple of years," Luzzi said. "Not too many teams have been able to keep it close with Akron, but over the last couple years we have shown that we're not afraid of the match-up and I think we'll bring everything we have."
A win Friday would embolden NIU's current NCAA Tournament résumé. The Huskies sit at 54th in the latest Rating Percentage Index (RPI). A total of 48 teams are selected for the tournament.
"We know we have to win to give us a chance," Luzzi said. "It doesn't guarantee a bid, but it gives us a chance."
The NIU-Akron match and every game of the MAC Tournament can be seen on Zip Zone, an online video channel at GoZips.com. Monthly subscriptions to Zip Zone can be purchased for $9.95.