Sophomore Gael Rivera and freshman Paul Hogan scored to lead the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team to a 2-1 season-opening victory at Saint Louis on Saturday night. The duo gave NIU a two-goal lead in the first 45 minutes to help propel the Huskies to the win.
After neither team created many chances in the early going, the Huskies had the first quality chance of the match in the 34th minute as sophomore Karim Darbaki fired a shot that was held by Saint Louis goalkeeper Mark Pais.
“Early on, as was to be expected, both teams were excited to play, had high intensity and high energy but neither team had much control,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “But as the half wore on we did a better job of getting a hold of things and scored a couple of goals.”
Rivera opened the scoring less than two minutes later at the 35:53 mark. Senior Finn Jor streaked down the left side and sent in a cross that Rivera volleyed in from six yards out to give NIU a well-deserved 1-0 lead.
The opening goal put Saint Louis on its heels as the Huskies attack kept coming. Another shot by Rivera forced a save from Pais. On the ensuing corner from Rivera, senior Francis Otira’s first effort was blocked by the Billiken defense but Hogan pounced on the second ball and fired it into the back of the net to double the NIU lead in the 42nd minute.
“We decided to give James (Stevenson) a rest for the last five or six minutes of the first half and Paul (Hogan) scored with his first touch, so that was great for him,” Luzzi said.
NIU outshot Saint Louis 8-1 in the first half.
In the second 45 minutes, the Billikens began to come into the game, grabbing more of the possession, but the first good chance of the half still fell to the Huskies as Stevenson whistled a shot high over the crossbar in the 57th minute.
Just a minute later, Saint Louis cut the NIU lead in half on a goal from Raymond Lee. Saint Louis won a free kick 35 yards from the NIU goal and played the ball wide to the right. A cross was sent in a met by Bryce Kingsley whose shot hit the post but Lee reacted first to the follow up in front of the goal.
The Huskies came right back on the attack in the 60th minute as freshman Isaac Kannah played an excellent ball to freshman Jayson LeSeth streaking in toward the Saint Louis goal. LeSeth’s low shot appeared headed for the right corner of the goal until Pais got a fingertip on the ball to divert it wide.
Saint Louis created a couple of chances in the dying moments of the contest, including an effort from Kingsley Bryce that forced a save from junior Jordan Godsey with just 35 seconds remaining, but NIU held on for the win.
Godsey made two saves in the contest as the Huskies outshot the Billikens, 15-7.
“To Saint Louis’ credit they came out in the second half and put us on our back foot at times,” Luzzi said. “We have become better at figuring out how to manage games but I think that our guys did pretty well, in an intimidating environment, even when they upped the pressure in the second half.”
NIU continues its three-game season-opening road trip next weekend as it travels to the Great Lakes State for the University of Michigan Invitational.
The Huskies will open the tournament at 7 p.m. (ET) Friday, Sept. 2, at Oakland before wrapping up the weekend at No. 9 Michigan at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday, Sept. 4.
For more information on NIU soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.