No. 1 Akron invades NIU for pivotal MAC matchup


Sophomore keeper Jordan Godsey grabs a corner kick out of the air.

By Mike Buda

A feud that has been building and brewing for 20 years will grow even larger with what might be its biggest battle.

The NIU men’s soccer team takes on No. 1 Akron in the programs’ 21st meeting at 3 p.m. Saturday in DeKalb.

“I expect a typical war,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “I expect two teams that are working very hard and that are two very good teams. I expect a big crowd and I expect our guys to feed off of that.”

In the first 20 get-togethers, the Zips have the edge 16-3-1 and have remained unbeaten in the last six, all of which they were ranked.

The Huskies (5-3-2) have won five out of their past seven matches while outscoring their opponents 9-3.

“We’ve beaten some ranked teams in the last couple of years, and now we’re playing the No. 1 team in the nation, and this will probably show the nation that we’re a real deal now,” said junior defender Tim King. “We’re ready to take on some real good teams.”

NIU’s defense as a whole this season has been impressive while allowing, on average, under 10 shots per game, but its stats can’t stack up with the best team in the country’s back line.

Akron (8-0-1) has outscored its opponents 25-2 with the two goals coming against Ohio State in its lone draw.

The Zips haven’t been shutting out wimpy Division II schools either. Out of Akron’s eight shutouts, three of them are against top five teams with a combined score of 9-0.

Two of those members of the backfield, sophomore Zarek Valentin and junior Kofi Sarkodie, were named as 2010 Soccer America Preseason All-Americans.

Even the possibility of this squad being the best college soccer team of all time isn’t out of the question.

“They score a lot of goals, they don’t give up many and they’ve beaten some pretty good teams,” Luzzi said. “They could be.”

Almost everyone on the Zips has chipped in some way this season as nine players have a goal and 12 have found themselves on the score sheet.

Senior midfielder Anthony Ampaipitakwong and junior striker Darlington Nagbe, who are also 2010 Soccer America Preseason All-Americans, have combined for five goals and nine assists.

“I’m excited,” said junior defender Francis Otira. “It’s a way of showing people, showing NIU, showing our parents, showing everyone and showing the nation that we’re a decent team and we can go against teams like Wisconsin and Akron and Northwestern and get results.”

Although the Huskies faced a No. 1 Akron team twice last season, this season is different with the way the Zips are dismantling the opposition, but it leaves the Huskies with a chance to show the nation what they’re capable of.

“I think if we take it as what it is and not look to make too much out of it, it’s just our next game against a very good team and we have a lot of those games,” Luzzi said. “If we keep it in the right perspective and our guys approach it with the right mentality, I think we’ll be fine on Saturday.”