Five NCAA Tournament teams, including three that finished in the top-10 last season, highlight the 2012 Northern Illinois men’s soccer schedule released on Monday. The Huskies will host six regular season matches at the NIU Soccer and Track & Field Complex as well as exhibition games against Notre Dame (Aug. 12) and DePaul (Aug. 18).
“We are very excited to announce our 2012 schedule,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “We always try to put together the best schedule possible for our team, but this is the most challenging one we have assembled in my time at NIU. To have six teams that won a conference championship and five teams that were in the NCAA Tournament last year on our schedule will be a great challenge for our team.”
Coming off a school-record tying 15-win season in 2011, NIU will begin the 2012 regular season on the road at Creighton on Friday, August 24. The Blue Jays ended the Huskies’ season last year in the NCAA Tournament Second Round and advanced to the College Cup, finishing with a 21-2-1 record.
The first regular season home appearance for NIU will come when the Huskies host the NIU adidas Invitational, Sept. 7-9. The Huskies will host Rhode Island on Friday, Sept. 7 at 5 p.m., and Sunday, Drake on Sept. 9, at 2 p.m.
NIU will play its second tournament in as many weekends, Sept. 14-16, as the Huskies compete in the Northwestern Lakeside Classic. NIU will meet UW-Milwaukee on Sept. 14 and Iona on Sept. 16 in Evanston.
For its third in-season tournament, the Huskies will travel to Albuquerque, N.M., for the New Mexico TLC/Nike Invitational. NIU will meet Denver on Friday, Sept. 21 and the host Lobos on Sunday, Sept. 23. New Mexico finished last season with an 18-0-4 record, bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the third round on penalty kicks.
“We always try to give our players the opportunity to play at the best venues in college soccer,” said Luzzi. “With Creighton and New Mexico on the schedule this year, we will give our guys the chance to play in two of the Top 10 places to play in the nation.”
Mid-American Conference play will begin for NIU on Sunday, Sept. 30, as the Huskies travel to Florida Atlantic before playing its conference home opener against Hartwick on Saturday, Oct. 6.
Following a midweek trip to face defending Big East regular season champion Marquette in Milwaukee, the Huskies will host Akron on Saturday, Oct. 13, as part of Homecoming Weekend at NIU. The match against the Zips begins at noon, followed by the NIU-Buffalo football game at 2:30 p.m.
Another midweek road match at defending Horizon League champion Valparaiso follows the Akron match on Wednesday, Oct. 17. The Huskies then host Bowling Green on Saturday, Oct. 20 before travelling to Evanston for a meeting with Northwestern on Wednesday, Oct. 24.
NIU’s home finale will take place on Saturday, Oct. 27, when the Huskies meet conference newcomer West Virginia. The Mountaineers reached the NCAA Tournament Second Round last season as members of the Big East.
The regular season concludes with back-to-back road matches against Western Michigan (Oct. 30) and Buffalo (Nov. 2), the two foes NIU defeated last season at the MAC Tournament to earn the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
Again this season, the MAC Tournament will be hosted by the regular season conference champion with the semifinals take place on Friday, Nov. 9, and the final on Sunday, Nov. 11.
“With the season that we had last year, I think we were successful in setting the standard for what we expect from our team every year,” said Luzzi. “This schedule will certainly take care of the ‘Strength of Schedule’ component of the RPI. Now, it’s up to our staff and our players to take care of getting the results that we need this year. I know our guys are excited for the challenges of this years’ schedule and I can’t wait until next month to get started.”