Men's soccer finished non-conference play with strong performance

Sophomore defender Anthony Markanich pressures an opponent Tuesday during a match against Eastern Illinois University at the Soccer and Track and Field Complex in DeKalb.

DeKALB  — The cold might have set in early, but the Huskies were on fire throughout Tuesday’s match. Four goals in the first half were more than enough for the men’s soccer team, as the Huskies looked their sharpest this season during a 5-1 win Tuesday over Eastern Illinois University.

Opening the score handed NIU the boost it needed after a tough 5-0 loss Saturday at home against Saint Mary’s College – California.

NIU came out rolling with quick movements and strong communication against EIU, and it did not take long for NIU to get its groove going, as sophomore forward Miguel Maynez Jr. scored just 30 seconds into the game.

“The guys came out with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder tonight, and I think it showed,” Head Coach Ryan Swan said. “It was a great response to Saturday’s disappointment.”

Prior to the loss against the Huskies, the Panthers had been a problem on the road for home teams, as they had allowed 1.4 goals per game in seven away matches; however, a fast start put the Huskies in a clear advantage, and Swan said the early goals forced EIU into switching the way the Panthers play. 

“I think it’s huge when [we] can break the resistance early,” Swan said. “We knew they’re a good defensive team, and they have shut out a lot of teams this year.”

After Maynez’s goal, EIU’s confidence dropped, and players’ heads began to tilt. After NIU scored a second goal, the Panthers responded with a goal of their own by junior forward Shady Omar; however, the Panthers looked like ghosts of the team they were before the start of the game. EIU never looked the same after the opening goals and a third goal at the 14th minute completely turned off the Panthers.

Men's soccer finished non-conference play with strong performance

Sophomore midfielder Louis Sala dribbles down the left side Tuesday during a match against Eastern Illinois University at the Soccer and Track and Field Complex in DeKalb.

Senior forward Jan Maertins played a huge role for NIU’s early success, as he provided two assists. This is the second time the German-born player has tallied two assists in a game, doing so Sept. 25, 2018 in a 2-1 victory against University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

Maertins has been the best option for NIU at the center forward position this season. The forward has scored three goals this season and his experience provides the post-game the Huskies need up front. Although Enrique Banuelos, redshirt first-year forward, is better with ball movement, he has yet to adjust to the fast-paced movement college soccer demands. 

NIU continued dominating throughout the game even as Swan began to rotate players and dip into his bench squad. Redshirt sophomore midfielder Lawrence Kwazema saw time as a center midfielder, and sophomore midfielder Jaden Stevenson saw 45 minutes on the left wing. Junior midfielder Sheriden Smith made his third appearance of the season, and junior forward Carlos Valdez ran the right wing and came close to scoring his first goal as a Huskie.

The Huskies have ventured into various rotations in formation this year, but their best performances have been in a 4-3-3 system with a lone defensive midfielder to lead from behind. The formation fluctuates when sophomore defender Anthony Markanich makes his way into the attack, but the Huskies have enough talent in the back to cover his zone.

NIU found balance in the midfield with first-year midfielder Luis Hernandez sitting behind junior midfielder Alex Welch and Maynez. The 1-2 diamond provided NIU the offensive advantage in needs, as Welch and Maynez pressured the Panthers’ back line, while Hernandez’s main focus was the sweep in front of center back defenders sophomore Pierce Ugarte and first-year Adrian Lara.

Welch and Maynez is NIU’s best duo at the center midfield position. The Huskies looked in sync and had a great impact on the offense. Welch  and Maynez provided the offensive spark in the middle which NIU has lacked. Although sophomore midfielder Louis Sala is very good on the ball, is strengths translate better in a possession-based game.

Martin Sanchez, redshirt first-year goalkeeper, has been a wall in the goal for NIU. The Huskie has conceded 10 goals in seven starts between the posts. Besides the 5 goals against Saint Mary’s, Sanchez has averaged 1.2 goals per game, including 24 saves.

NIU hasn’t seen five goals in a victory since Nov. 2, 2010 when it trampled Milwaukee 5-1 on the road for the LeWang Cup to close out the 2010 campaign.

The EIU victory is NIU’s first five-goal home victory since 2009 when again, the Huskies defeated Milwaukee 5-1 for the LeWang Cup at the Soccer and Track and Field Complex.

Offensive inconsistencies have handicapped the Huskies early this season, but non-conference play was the perfect time for NIU to find its footing. The Huskies posted 13 goals prior to facing EIU and failed to score more than one goal in eight matches, going 1-6-1 in that range.

It’s hard to win a game when coming from behind, and this season has surely challenged NIU. The Huskies are 1-4-1 when conceding first; however, like any other game and sport, the key to winning is scoring, and that is exactly what the Huskies have to do to be their most dangerous. NIU is 4-2 this season when scoring first, including 11 goals in three home victories.

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