Men’s soccer looks to defend MAC title over the weekend

By Jacob Onak

Men’s soccer will look to defend its 2011 MAC Tournament Championship this weekend as it faces off against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Friday in Akron.

The Huskies (6-9-3, 4-2-1 MAC) will go into the match as a second seed, while the Mountaineers (9-5-2, 4-2-1 MAC) will be the third seed.

In its previous meeting this season NIU defeated the Mountaineers, 1-0 off sophomore midfielder Isaac Kannah’s goal in the 83rd minute.

Senior defender Rocco Taglia said West Virginia will be playing with a chip on its shoulder, but defensive pressure is the key to victory.

“They’re going to want redemption, that’s the first and foremost thing from them,” Taglia said. “I think when we played them last time our pressing and re-pressing was what won us the game. So if we can keep that at a high level and a high rate of quality and honest defending, I think that we are setting ourselves up golden.”

The Mountaineers are led by senior defender Eric Schoenle, who leads the team with six goals and has helped the Mountaineer back line secure six shutouts in the regular season.

West Virginia’s strength comes from its defensive discipline and attacking set pieces. In their last game the Huskies goal came off of a well-executed counterattack and NIU will need to take its chances in front of the net in order to break down the Mountaineers’ defense.

This will be freshman striker Matt Pritchard’s first appearance in postseason play for NIU. Pritchard has found his game in the last couple weeks of the regular season and has been a big boost coming off the bench.

“Its obviously pretty exciting,” Pritchard said. “Not many teams in the country get this chance with the record we have and going in as the second seed is pretty awesome. It’s going to be a pretty awesome experience for our first conference tournament and hopefully we can come out with another title.”

When it comes to playoffs, tactics can be thrown out the window. These games will come down to heart, determination, and nobody knows that more than head coach Eric Luzzi.

“Its very little soccer anymore,” Luzzi said. “So, yeah, we are going to have to play well and there will be some tactical things we do, but its going to be about energy and effort, not making mistakes, winning first and second balls and being sharp on set pieces.”

If the Huskies advance they will face off against the winner of the match between Akron and Western Michigan on Sunday. Akron is undefeated in conference play and secured the first seed, along with home-field advantage.