Men’s soccer goes from sluggish to unstoppable

Men’s soccer is ranked for the first time since 2011 and shows no signs of letting up.


James Krause | Northern Star

The men’s soccer team celebrates after a goal by sophomore midfielder Eddie Knight in the 88th minute sealed a 2-0 win over West Virginia on Oct. 9.

With a win over the fourth-ranked West Virginia University Mountaineers Saturday, the NIU men’s soccer team moved to 10-1 and enters the United Soccer Coaches top 25 rankings for the first time since 2011, according to NIU Athletics.

The 22nd ranked Huskies who finished 5-8-1 last season have surpassed all expectations this season. NIU is currently on a nine-game winning streak which includes 681 minutes and 33 seconds without conceding a goal.

Senior forward Nick Markanich continues his extraordinary campaign, leading the country with 12 goals, and has made a case for himself to be the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year.

Redshirt junior forward Enrique Banuelos has been an assist machine, ranking eighth in the country for assists with seven. 

NIU is third in the country in total offense with 2.91 goals per game while leading in goals against average with 0.271 goals per game.

The Huskies have the highest goal differential in the nation of +29, along with the highest shutout percentage in the nation at .818.

How is this year different from all others? How has this team made a dramatic shift from the poor record they finished with last season?

“It’s what we’ve done on the training grounds, and we are taking it onto the pitch,” sophomore defenseman Harry Jolley said. “The mentality that the coaches have set, whether it be in training or whether it be in the gym. Before a game and during the game, it’s important, and we aren’t looking too far ahead. We are taking each game as it comes, which is important to do when you have such a condensed and difficult season.”

Since their 2-0 loss against the University of Notre Dame on Aug. 30, the Huskies have been in tip-top shape, allowing only one goal since their trip to South Bend.

The team faced its first tough test on Sep. 10 when the 18th-ranked Marquette University Golden Eagles came to Dekalb.

The Huskies defeated the Golden Eagles 3-0, a win that would be telling of the success they achieved thus far.

Fast forward through the next five games they played, and the results are the same. Shutout victories have been the staple for this squad, with nine this season.

“The coaches have a vision, and we have bought into it,” Banuelos said. “We are attacking and defending together, just basically training and playing with all we have.”

With five matches left before the Mid-American Conference tournament, expectations are high for this Huskie team as they sit at 2-0 in conference play. However, while winning is important, head coach Ryan Swan said playing alongside each other has been fun for his players.

“At the start of the year, we were all talking about wanting to win a MAC Championship, and with the championship comes the opportunity to play in the national tournament,” Swan said. “I think for all the guys, they just want to make the season last for as long as they can. I don’t think there’s a ceiling for how far we can go.”

The Huskies look to continue their winning streak at 7 p.m. Saturday when they host the 17th-ranked Bowling Green State University Falcons. The Falcons and Huskies share the top spot in the conference standings heading into Saturday’s match.