Bring on the Zips

By Brian Thomas

NIU men’s soccer will face one of its most difficult tests of the year this Saturday.

The Huskies will hit the road to take on No. 3-ranked Akron.

The Zips will play in a potentially hostile environment and are also the defending National Champions.

“[There will be] 5,000 people plus, no question,” said Eric Luzzi, NIU head men’s soccer coach. “Their fans are literally five or six feet off each sideline. They’re going to be saying mean things about our guys. Our guys will have to be focused [and] laugh that stuff off rather than let that affect them. It’s one of the best environments in college soccer.”

The Huskies (8-2-0, 0-1-0 MAC) are coming off their most recent win in double-overtime against Marquette, in which freshman Jayson LeSeth scored the game-winning goal.

“We feel really good right now, really good,” said senior Finn Jor. “Everybody felt like we deserved to win in overtime after losing to Buffalo. Our confidence is pretty high right now and we’re excited.”

The Zips (7-1-2, 1-0-0 MAC) are coming off their first loss of the season, which came against UC Santa Barbara in a 3-2 overtime match.

Akron is equipped with a strong offense. It is ranked sixth in the nation in scoring offense as it averages 2.4 goals a match while taking 15.3 shots per match.

Akron’s key-player on offense is sophomore Darren Mattocks, who is tied for ninth in the nation in goals with seven through eight games.

The Huskies’ defense, along with junior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey, will need to key on Mattocks and the rest of Akron’s high-powered offense.

“We’ll just have to work our tails off, keep doing what we have been doing pretty good, keep pressuring, finding the forward and then running off of that,” Jor said. “They have a pretty big shift. We have to exploit that.”

Although Akron is the defending National Champion, the Huskies are up to the challenge and Luzzi believes they can win.

“Our expectations are that we are going to go in there and give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Luzzi said. “Ultimately, we are a better team than we ever have been. [Akron is] not quite as good as they have been recently. They are still very good, not quite as good, and this should be a good opportunity for our guys.”