If you went out and watched an NIU men’s soccer game last season, you saw a big number 18 in the heart of the Huskies defense.
That man was defender Francis Otira, who in 2011 helped lead NIU to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Otira would go on to win First Team All-MAC honors, along with All-MAC tournament Team honors, and NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region Second Team.
Otira was also on All-Tournament Team’s for the NIU/Adidas Invitational, the Northwestern Lakeside Classic and the Michigan Invitational, along with getting a CO-MAC Player of the Week and College Soccer News National Team of the Week nods for the same week in September 2011.
After Otira graduated, it was interesting to see who would lead the defense this year, but as coach Eric Luzzi sees it, it’s the offense, not the defense, that will pick up the slack this year.
“We’re such a different team,” Luzzi said. “We’ve given up five goals so far, which is not like us. I don’t expect that to continue. The reality is, we are a much better team on the ball than we have ever been. I don’t expect our defense to be under as much pressure as we were last year because we are going to have a lot more of the ball than we did last year, and that as a whole should take pressure off our defense.”
With senior Rocco Taglia returning as center back for the Huskies, it’s sophomore Dusty Page who is the new face in the center of the defense. Page has started the first two games for NIU and has played every minute, looking dangerous on set pieces.
As a freshman, Page was able to watch the impact that Otira had on the game.
“One of the biggest things about Francis was the mentality he brought,” Page said. “He was a fierce competitor, and that’s something I like to think I have in myself as well. “He was very good at organizing the back line and the midfield, and very good technically, so those traits combined made him very good as a center back. It was awesome to learn from a guy like him.”
There’s no doubt that Luzzi respected Otira as a person and a player, but that was last year. He now focuses on the players he currently has.
“He’s the best defender I have ever coached,” Luzzi said. “He helped organize things in the back and brought great energy to the team, but I think our back four has played well on the whole.”