Editorial: The big game this weekend is not Saturday, but Friday

The big game this weekend is not Saturday but Friday, when the men’s soccer team opens their home schedule.

On Saturday students will wake up early to start tailgating for NIU vs. Eastern Michigan at Huskie Stadium.

Will the football team win the first game of the season or go 0-3 for the first time since 1999?

While it’s a good sports storyline, NIU’s best sports story sits right behind the West side of Huskie Stadium – at Huskie Soccer Field.

Yes, the men’s soccer team.

While football gets the headlines, men’s soccer remains in relative obscurity. And for no reason.

Last season, the team won a MAC Championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament, only to lose to perennial power Indiana in the second round.

The football team hasn’t won an outright MAC Championship yet.

This past weekend, the men’s soccer team lost the No. 2 team in the nation in Indiana 1-0 and played No. 8 Notre Dame to the 1-1 tie.

Imagine if the football team played the No. 2 and No. 8 team on the Associated Press poll. A LSU/NIU matchup wouldn’t result in a 7-0 LSU win.

Head coach Steve Simmons runs a physical, defensive team where the offense is set up through its defense. This isn’t a team that’s going to score six goals a game but the action is still there.

Where football is faceless in a season without Garrett Wolfe, men’s soccer has two stars in forward Marcus McCarty and goalkeeper Joe Zimka.

McCarty, last season’s MAC Newcomer of the Year is the offensive force of the team with a tendency to score goals in high-pressure situations. The Fort Worth, Texas native had seven game-winning goals last season and has one already in four games.

Zimka, the last line of defense, is as good as they come in the NCAA. Last season, Zimka set an NCAA record for goals allowed average with .021 goals per match. The Algonquin native also had an NCAA-best .955 save percentage and had 11 shutouts.

But maybe the best part of attending a men’s soccer match is as near a guaranteed victory as possible, going a perfect 9-0 at home last year.

Oh, and there’s tailgating there, too. Meet southeast of the Convo, north of the soccer stadium. Friday’s game time is 4:30 p.m. The round-robin tournament concludes at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.