Men’s soccer in must-win mode for potential first-round bye in playoffs

Marcel Carrasco

DeKALB — Playoff positions are key to a team’s success in the postseason, and the Huskies have a chance to cement their spot in the second stage of the 2019 Mid-American Conference Tournament.

Regular-season action ends when the men’s soccer team plays 6 p.m. Saturday at Cochrane Stadium in Bowling Green, Ohio against the Bowling Green State University Falcons.

The Huskies hold a very slim chance of receiving a first-round bye in the conference tournament, and a win against the Falcons will only help NIU book an immediate ticket to the semifinal stage.

“The biggest thing for us is controlling what we can [control] right now,” Head Coach Ryan Swan said. “We’re focused on winning the game against Bowling Green, whether that means finishing second or third, we just want to take care of what we can take care of.”

Ahead of the Huskies are Western Michigan University and Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville with seven points, tied for second place in the league. The University of Akron secured its spot in the semifinals with a first-place position in the regular season after a Thursday victory against West Virginia University, who is slotted sixth heading into playoffs.

The Huskies sit in third place with six points, and beating the Falcons can catapult NIU to second place; however, it all depends on a match between WMU and SIUE, when they play noon Saturday in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A tie between the Broncos and Cougars will lock both teams at eight points. If the Huskies can win their match, NIU will be the rightful owner of the second-place position with nine points.

There is a lot on the line for NIU, and frankly, also for WMU and SIUE. Although a tie between the Broncos and Cougars will be ideal, the Huskies will have to focus on Bowling Green State, who has proven to be a menace to the MAC’s top teams. The Falcons have just one victory, and three losses in league play; however, BGSU has lost by only one goal in its three losses, including a 2-1 loss Oct. 21, 2019 against Akron.

“Our [mindset] is concentrating on Bowling Green,” Swan said. “I think it’s important that we get the win there, get that result. If the SIUE and Western Michigan result goes the way we need it to, then obviously that will be a fantastic thing.” 

Two games will decide the playoff picture for four teams, and the standings will be different depending on the two matches. In the MAC, everything is up for grabs, and for NIU, the Huskies can very well drop to fifth place with a loss to the Falcons.

The winner of the conference tournament will get an automatic bid to the 2019 NCAA Tournament, where the Huskies would have an opportunity to compete against the top teams in the nation.