NIU ready for showdown with WVU

The men’s soccer team hopes to hand fourth-ranked West Virginia their first loss of the season this Saturday

Sophomore+midfielder+Roland+Dearborn+chases+down+a+Western+Illinois+defender+during+NIUs+win+over+WIU+on+Sept.+18.

Sean Reed | Northern Star

Sophomore midfielder Roland Dearborn chases down a Western Illinois defender during NIU’s win over WIU on Sept. 18.

Noah Silver, Sports Reporter

DeKALB — The Huskies men’s soccer team will take on the fourth-ranked West Virginia University Mountaineers at 3 p.m. Saturday in a match with huge implications for both clubs.

The 9-1 Huskies have won eight consecutive games since a 2-0 defeat to the University of Notre Dame. NIU has a chance to break into the NCAA top 25 soccer rankings with a win Saturday.

The Mountaineers hold a 6-0-4 record, including two ties with the University of Akron and Lehigh University leading up to the game. A loss to NIU would significantly affect their standing.

Senior forward Nick Markanich looks to add to his nation-leading goal total of 12 on the season. 

“Having someone like Nick, who’s been on fire this year and scoring practically every game, it makes a considerable difference,” head coach Ryan Swan said. “Your opponent has always got to find a way to score against you when you know you’re getting on the board.” 

Redshirt junior forward Enrique Banuelos, who’s third in the nation with seven assists, will also look to contribute to the nation’s top-scoring offense.

“We have that connection on the field,” Banuelos said. “We know where the spaces are and how everyone opens space for each other. We are just taking advantage of that.”

The connection runs deep through the Huskies roster, especially senior defenseman Anthony Markanich. Anthony has recorded three assists this season, all of them to his brother Nick.

“Anthony has been contributing with good goals and assists this year,” Swan said. “I think when you watch them on the field and in training, you see their personality and their competitive attitudes towards the game. It’s massive for us.”

West Virginia started the season winning their first three games until tying with Loyola University Maryland. The Mountaineers have gone 3-0-3 since.

“We’ve played a lot of close games to this point and have had opportunities to put teams away,” said Dan Stratford, West Virginia head coach, in a Tuesday WVU Athletics news release. “For whatever reason, we haven’t capitalized on those moments like we should have.”

WVU senior forward Yoran Popovic leads the Mountaineers in goals scored with four, including one in his last game against Lehigh.

The Mountaineers are looking for a big bounce-back game against the Huskies and know that they have to play better than they have in the previous games.

“The next 24-to-48 hours are going to be critical in terms of how we respond,” Stratford said. “We need to make sure we get back together and be ready for a very tough game on Saturday.”

The Huskies and Mountaineers will meet at 3 p.m. Saturday at the NIU Soccer and Track and Field Complex.