Junior midfielder Gael Rivera (Oslo, Norway/WANG Elite Sports Academy) scored his fourth goal of the season in the 68th minute Saturday afternoon to lift the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team to a 1-0 victory over Hartwick at the NIU Soccer Complex.
With the win, the Huskies improve to 2-0 in Mid-American Conference play, 3-5-2 overall.
“I thought the first half was absolutely fantastic,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “We dominated the first half for sure, we created a lot of good chances and it should not have been 0-0 at halftime. Credit to Hartwick, I thought they came out and were sharper in the second half but, on the flip side, credit to our guys for finding a way and maintaining their belief. On the whole I think it was a fair result.”
The Huskies nearly opened the scoring in the second minute as a header by senior defender Pat Sloan (Lisle, Ill./Benet Academy) was cleared off the line. After a long throw by NIU bounced in the box a couple of times, Sloan got a head on it at the far post and would have had an early goal if not for a saving header from a Hartwick defender.
NIU had another excellent opportunity in the 10th minute. Junior forward James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungo’s) played sophomore midfielder Isaac Kannah (Plymouth, Minn./Prairie Seeds Academy) in behind the Hartwick defense. Kannah’s low drive was well saved by Hawk goalkeeper Mateo Munarriz who had come out near the top of the box.
Sophomore midfielder Jayson LeSeth (Des Plaines, Ill./Maine West) had another opportunity for NIU in the 28th minute. When a second ball off a throw-in came out to the top of the box, LeSeth pounced on the opportunity and fired a shot that went high over the Hartwick goal.
Good build-up play down the left wing led to another chance for NIU in the 36th minute. Kannah played the final ball into the run of Stevenson who was one-on-one with Munarriz, but Stevenson’s shot went harmlessly high of the goal.
NIU outshot Hartwick 9-2 in the opening 45 minutes.
After the break, Hartwick (3-5-2, 1-1-0 MAC) had its best chance of the match in the 58th minute. Chris Walter drove a low cross from the right wing into the NIU penalty area where Tim Crawford found space. In one-touch Crawford whistled a shot that went just by the near post of Huskie goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs).
The Huskies made Hartwick pay for their missed opportunity in the 68th minute. Rivera had an initial shot parried away well by Munarriz, but the rebound stayed in play. Freshman forward Parker Thornton (Buda, Texas/Hayes) played the ball back in front of goal toward Kannah who flicked it on to Rivera. Rivera powered his header past a helpless Munarriz to break the deadlock.
The goal was the eighth for Rivera in his NIU career while Kannah picked up his first assist of the season and Thornton registered his first career assist.
Hartwick tried to push forward for an equalizer in the final 22 minutes. The Hawks had four attempts at goal to try to even the match, but none of the four tested Godsey between the posts for NIU.
The shutout was the 30th for Godsey in his NIU career, extending his school record. It was also the seventh clean sheet for Godsey and the Huskie defense in its last eight games against conference foes.
Northern Illinois will return to action Tuesday, Oct. 9, when the Huskies travel to Milwaukee for a meeting with ninth-ranked Marquette. The match with the Golden Eagles is scheduled for 7 p.m.
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.