Men’s soccer to start MAC at West Virginia

By Jacob Onak

DeKalb | In a match between two very similar teams, men’s soccer is set to open its conference season at West Virginia.

The Huskies and the Mountaineers have two almost-even records going into this match, NIU being (3-6-0) and West Virigina (3-5-1, 0-1 MAC). Head coach Eric Luzzi not only sees the similarities in the records but also in the teams.

“They have a lot of new guys and … we have a young team,” Luzzi said. “Very much like us, they’re a very good team who’s had some bad luck and had a very difficult schedule to start the season and probably just like us very much on the verge. As I felt — and I’m sure that their coaching staff feels the same way about them — we’re right on the cusp, we’re right there.”

The Mountaineers have had a tough non-conference schedule, falling to Georgetown, Michigan and Penn State, but West Virginia also had an encouraging 5-4 win against Indiana on Sept. 8.

The Huskies have also faced some tough teams in Ohio State, Michigan State and St. Louis this season.

West Virginia has dual offensive threats in junior Andy Bevin and sophomore Majed Osman. The two have scored four goals each and each have four assists.

The Huskies’ offensive play has been led by senior James Stevenson and junior Isaac Kannah, who both have three goals each.

This biggest difference between West Virginia and NIU is the Mountaineers have already started their MAC season with a 1-0 loss to Akron. Akron, West Virginia and NIU were picked to go 1-2-3 in the conference, and this is a chance for the Huskies to take a big bite out of the Mountaineers in MAC play.

“I think it would be massive for us to start off 1-0,” said junior midfielder Jayson LeSeth. “But then, yeah, I mean starting off 0-2, even though I would say us and Akron are probably [West Virginia’s] toughest games it still … would take a huge knock on their confidence and put a lot of pressure on them to perform in the rest of their conference games starting out 0-2.”

If anything has to be said about the Huskies’ non-conference results, it’s that they know where their weak spots are.

“Set pieces,” Luzzi said. “We’ve only conceded I think three or four goals of the run of play of all season in nine games against a very difficult schedule. So if we can eliminate set piece goals we’re gonna get a lot of clean sheets and we’re gonna win games.”

A 1-0 start to its conference schedule would be a big step forward for NIU and it was at this time last season when the Huskies started to find good results.

Much of those good results came from some lineup changes, and this season NIU has done the same.

In the last game against Michigan State, the Huskies moved their senior captain, Sean Totsch, back into his more comfortable center midfield spot and moved junior Shawn Vroom into a center back spot. This move allowed Charlie Oliver to slide back into his normal outside back role and have freshman Cody Witkowski compliment him in the other outside back spot.

Luzzi believes this can be a turning point for his squad.

“We’ve been doing a lot of good things,” Luzzi said. “We’ve been playing really good soccer. We’ve been outplaying most of the teams we’ve played and we’ve just been a little bit lax in some of the details. In certain moments that [has] hurt us.”