Men’s soccer plays with heart, falls to Akron in MAC title game

By Jacob Onak

NIU men’s soccer started off the MAC Tournament coming out victorious after sophomore midfielder Jayson LeSeth’s free kick gave the Huskies a 1-0 win over West Virginia. They advanced to the championship game against the Akron Zips.

The Huskies (7-10-3) fell after two second half goals gave the Zips (17-1-2) a 2-0 lead and ultimately the MAC Tournament Championship.

In the first half, Akron came out and put the Huskies’ defense under pressure; in the 22nd minute, the Zips almost took the lead.

Senior midfielder Scott Caldwell fired a shot from a distance but NIU keeper Jordan Godsey made an acrobatic save to keep the game scoreless going into halftime. Godsey ended the game with a season-high eight saves, including a saved penalty kick in the 80th minute.

NIU senior captain Mike Mascitti was proud of the way his team played in the first half.

“First half, I was really proud of our work rate,” Mascitti said. “The guys upfront were working their tails off frustrating the Akron defense and making them turn the ball over. For a No. 1 team in the nation, the amount of times we forced a turnover was outstanding, so a lot of credit [goes] to the guys up-front.”

Coming into the second half, freshman Gabe Christianson had a to score for the Huskies in the 52nd minute off a long throw in, but his volley hit the post and went wide of the net.

The Huskies defense couldn’t hold, though. Akron found the game winner in the 73rd minute. Sophomore striker Saad Abdul-Salaam found the ball at his feet and slotted it home to give the Zips a 1-0 lead.

Just two minutes later Akron found a second goal. Junior striker Aodhan Quinn collected a ball form Caldwell and fired it home to give the Zips a 2-0 lead and the win.

Huskies freshman Charlie Oliver said NIU left all they had on the field.

“It’s a tough loss for us but everyone poured their heart out onto the field today and everyone worked for each other,” Oliver said. “We gave them a good run for their money and I couldn’t ask for more from anyone.”

Coach Eric Luzzi couldn’t deny the heart his team played with in the game.

“Our guys gave all they had,” Luzzi said. “I asked them not to leave anything they had out there [on the field], they didn’t and I’m happy with that, and those guys represented what we are as a team, as a program, very, very well. We will miss the ones who are not going to be back, we will miss our seniors. We’ve done well with those guys.”