Junior forward James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungo’s) gave the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team a lead at third-ranked Creighton, but the Huskies couldn’t hold off a Bluejay comeback as they fell 3-1 on Friday night at Morrison Stadium.
“What I just told the guys was that we need to be disappointed in the result, but that’s really about it,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “The first half, they definitely had us on our heels. I thought in the second half, even though the score line says 3-1, the game was extremely even. I thought that we opened them up a couple of times, we found some space to play and once we did that our guys got a little bit of confidence and started to do some of the things we are capable of doing.”
Playing in front of a raucous season-opening crowd of 2,689, Northern Illinois (0-1-0) took a lead behind Stevenson’s 67th minute goal. Senior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs) was excellent between the posts for the Huskies as he recorded eight saves in the contest.
“Special players make special plays and Jordan (Godsey) had a handful of them,” said Luzzi. “And the goal that James (Stevenson) scored was absolutely first class. The reality is that we need our special players to continue to do special things. That’s how teams win games and, ultimately, win championships.”
In front of the large home crowd, Creighton (1-0-0) came out firing early.
Timo Pitter had the first good chance for the Bluejays in the fourth minute with a shot from outside the 18-yard box that was parried back into play by Godsey. Sean Kim would eventually have a shot from the rebound for Creighton, but his effort went well high.
Pitter had another chance in the 16th minute; Godsey again saved but couldn’t hold it. Kim once again had the follow-up effort but fired well high to keep the match scoreless.
In the 34th minute, Jose Ribas had the most dangerous chance of the half as his effort was palmed away for a corner by a diving Godsey. At the intermission, Creighton held a 12-1 advantage in shots.
The Huskies saw much more of the ball to begin the second half.
Sophomore midfielder Jabari Danzy (Park Forest, Ill./Marian Catholic) came on as a substitute at the half and had a header from the far post into a dangerous position in the 56th minute but the Bluejay goalkeeper Jeff Gal sniffed out the opportunity.
NIU won a throw-in to the left of the Creighton goal in the 67th minute. Senior defender Rocco Taglia’s (Caledonia, Ill./Boylan) long throw came to senior midfielder Mike Mascitti (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South) who flicked the ball on to Stevenson. In one-touch, Stevenson clipped a ball over the Bluejay goalkeeper from 10 yards out, giving the Huskies a 1-0 advantage.
The Huskie lead would last just 90 seconds however before Kim equalized for the Bluejays. Kim took a pass from Eric Miller and touched the ball past Godsey to even the match, 1-1.
Creighton took a lead in the 80th minute when Carlos McCrary found the back of the net. McCrary took a pass from Pitter inside the Huskie box and made no mistake, slotting the ball past Godsey to give the home side a 2-1 advantage.
With NIU pressing forward for an equalizer, Creighton took advantage of an odd-man situation at the back. After Godsey made a spectacular save on an initial shot, the ball pinged around the box before falling to Kim who fired a shot into an open goal in the 87th minute, giving the Bluejays a 3-1 lead.
In the final minute, Creighton was awarded a penalty kick. Andrew Ribeiro stepped forward to take the spot kick and was denied by Godsey, diving to his right. The save capped an outstanding night for the senior goalkeeper from Ocean Springs, Miss.
Northern Illinois returns to action Friday, Aug. 31, when the Huskies travel to Green Bay, Wis., to face UW Green Bay. Kickoff against the Phoenix is scheduled for 6 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.