Junior midfielder Karim Darbaki (Crystal, Minn./Shattuck St. Mary’s) scored the lone goal as the Northern Illinois men’s soccer team finished the regular season with a 1-0 victory over Buffalo on a wet and cold Friday night at UB Stadium.
With the win, NIU clinches a spot in next weekend’s Mid-American Conference Tournament at Akron.
“If we lose that game our season is over, if Buffalo doesn’t win that game their season is over, so there was a high-level of emotions and a lot at stake,” said NIU head coach Eric Luzzi. “I thought the first half was really good, we moved the ball well, created some good chances, kept Buffalo on their back foot and I was pleased that we were able to get one. It was a heck of a goal by Karim.
“In the second half there wasn’t a lot of soccer. They were pressing, throwing numbers forward because a tie didn’t do them any good, they needed to score twice. I thought our guys battled very well. The first half was good soccer; the second half was fantastic will to do what we had to do to close the game out.”
Senior goalkeeper Jordan Godsey (Ocean Springs, Miss./Ocean Springs) made five saves en route to his 34th career shutout, further extending his school record while bringing him within two of the top-10 in NCAA Division I history.
“He made two or three outstanding saves, point-blank saves in traffic,” Luzzi said of Godsey. “There were some scary moments in the second half and he made some very good saves.”
Northern Illinois (6-9-3, 4-2-1 MAC) had a chance to open the scoring in the 13th minute. Following a short corner, sophomore forward Isaac Kannah (Plymouth, Minn./Prairie Seeds Academy) whistled a shot high of the Buffalo goal. Two minutes later NIU created another chance. The Huskies worked the ball down the left wing before a cross came to junior forward James Stevenson (Falkirk, Scotland/St. Mungo’s) who fired wide of the near post.
An extended period of possession led to the opening goal for NIU in the 28th minute. Working down the end line to the right of the Buffalo goal, junior midfielder Gael Rivera (Oslo, Norway/WANG Elite Sports Academy) fed a pass to the corner of the box to Darbaki. The Crystal, Minn., native fired a shot into the upper corner of the goal, far post to give the visitors a deserved 1-0 lead.
The goal was Darbaki’s first of the season and the third of his NIU career.
Buffalo’s only dangerous chance of the first half came in the 31st minute on a shot by Maksym Kowal. Kowal’s long distance shot skipped off the wet turf and was blocked away by Godsey. The NIU defense was able to clear the ball before a chance could be created off the rebound.
Rivera had the first chance of the second half with a shot that went wide in the 50th minute. Five minutes later, Godsey had to be alert in coming off his line to sniff out a possible chance for Buffalo.
A giveaway in midfield by the Huskies led to a chance for the Bulls in the 62nd minute. Patrick Ryan had the opportunity for Buffalo (5-11-1, 3-4-0 MAC) that was held by Godsey.
The Huskies had a pair of chances at the other end. Kannah took a low shot that went just wide in the 66th minute and Darbaki took a shot from distance that went wide in the 75th.
A minute later Buffalo had an excellent opportunity as Richard Craven found space in behind the Huskie defense inside the six-yard box. After a good cross found Craven, his effort went wide and the Huskies maintained the one-goal advantage.
Still pushing for an equalizer, Buffalo had its last good opportunity from a corner in the 80th minute. Craven again had the chance and Godsey made a spectacular reaction save to keep the Bulls off the board and give NIU its first win in Buffalo since 2004.
“If you look at our record as a whole it’s not all that impressive,” said Luzzi. “But I have maintained belief in our team the whole season that we are a very good team and the fact that we will, at minimum, have a tie for second-place in our conference is a great statement for our guys that we are a good team.”
Northern Illinois will be back in action Friday, Nov. 9, in the semifinals of the MAC Tournament in Akron, Ohio. NIU’s seed, opponent and game time will be determined following the conclusion of conference play Saturday.
For more information on NIU men’s soccer and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.