MAC Men's Soccer Tournament Central
Northern Illinois 1, West Virginia 0
AKRON, Ohio – Northern Illinois sophomore Jayson LeSeth (Des Plaines) scored his first goal of the season and the match’s lone goal in goal the 33rd minute off a free kick to lift the Huskies over West Virginia, 1-0. The win placed the Huskies into the Mid-American Conference Championship for a second-straight season.
“It’s very cliché but survive and advance, survive and advance,” said Head Coach Eric Luzzi after his team advanced to a second-consecutive MAC Championship. “In the first half I thought we were very, very good and I thought West Virginia had us on our heels for the first 10 minutes or so, after that we got control of things and went into the half ahead 1-0.
“Lots of credit to West Virginia in the second half … as is our way, we kind of battled through tough circumstances, were able to keep the clean sheet in the back and did what we had to do to play on Sunday.”
The win was NIU’s (7-9-3) second win of the season over WVU (9-6-2), also a 1-0 triumph on Oct. 27 in DeKalb, Ill. Goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss.) earned his ninth shutout of the season and the 35th of his career.
Junior Gael Rivera (Oslo, Norway) created the Huskies first real chance of the match, tackling a Mountaineer defender and jarring the ball away towards net. The shifty Norwegian ran after the loose ball, towards the net and dribbled into the box, where he curled a shot toward the far post, but it sailed wide of the post resulting in a Mountaineer goal kick.
In the 33rd minute, Northern Illinois won a free kick at the edge of the 18-yard box on the far side of the field, roughly 13-yards from the end line. With the West Virgina defense expecting a volley to the head of an NIU attacker, LeSeth stepped back and fired a waist-high, curling shot towards net that skimmed past the defense and goalkeeper Pat Eavenson to give NIU a 1-0 lead that carried into the half.
“I think that was our first set piece goal of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Luzzi, “when you get runners in the box and you get dangerous service, good things come of that. I’m very happy for Jay and it was a good set piece goal.”
NIU defended well in the first period, clearing both of West Virginia’s corner kicks in the match and not allowing high-percentage chances. Godsey punched away a cross in the opening minutes of the match and collected threats by the Mountaineer attack.
In the opening minutes of the second half, West Virginia was on the attack from the same area that LeSeth scored his goal. Under pressure from the NIU defense, Ryan Cain crossed to Andy Bevin wide open in front of net, but Huskie defender Pat Sloan (Lisle) stepped in at the last second to clear the threat out of the box.
West Virginia continued to bear down on the Northern Illinois defense, putting shots just wide of the net and into the side netting. Craig Stephens rattled the crossbar in the 54th minute of play and seven minutes later, Andy Bevin headed a floating ball towards net that gave Godsey some trouble, but the Huskies stalwart keeper punched it over the crossbar.
Parker Thornton (Buda, Texas) nearly added to the score sheet late in the match, receiving a low and hard cross from Matt Pritchard inside the box. Thornton positioned his feet to deflect the cross onto net but it sailed inches left of the post.
The Huskies added what appeared to be a second goal with under 10 minutes remaining in the match but the linesman raised the flag and awarded offsides to NIU.
Northern Illinois will defend its Mid-American Conference Championship Sunday afternoon versus the winner of host Akron or Bowling Green at 3:30 p.m. Central time.